Save the Milk – You Won’t Need it for these Kinds of Cookies

laptop drawing with "computer cookies" on the monitor

Cookies have earned a slightly negative reputation in the minds of people, perhaps due to the misuse of information that cookies can provide or just due to the fact that not many people know what cookies are. Maybe you think cookies can transmit a virus to your computer or destroy your hardware. But what are cookies and why are they necessary? And what, if anything, should you be concerned about when browsing a site that uses cookies?

What are computer cookies?

Computer cookies are just bits of text that are saved to your computer. In and of themselves, they are completely harmless. When you login to a service website that is personalized to you or that remembers your account, cookies are being used to remember that information. In a nutshell, the web browser you’re using send a cookie to your computer and the browser stores it. Then the browser sends the cookie back to the server when you revisit that page again.

Why are they used?

Cookies make your browsing experience better because they allow the website to remember you. If you have logged in and been greeted using your name, cookies are allowing the website to locate your account. Cookies make it quicker to locate the information you want when logging in, and make it a more personal experience. For retail companies, offering a personalized experience can lead to more sales.

Who can access the information?

Only the server that initiated the cookie can access that information. Cookies cannot be passed back and forth between different servers. If you disable cookies in your browser, this passing of information is blocked.

Are cookies secure?

The simple answer is yes, cookies are harmless in themselves. Because they are just bits of memorized text, they cannot carry out processes or tasks. Hence, they cannot be used to spy on you or hack into anything. They can, however track your web browsing when online ad companies send cookies with a unique user ID. However, tracking can offer more streamlined browsing and target the information you’re looking for. This is how companies such as Amazon can give you personalized recommendations.

In most web browsers, you can set your browser to a high sensitivity level, which will prompt the browser to ask if you want to continue before a cookie is used. This way, you can choose which websites can use cookies with your browser.

Why this matters more today than ever before

While topic can be a bit overwhelming, hopefully you feel like you have a better understanding now of how they work.  The reason you may be hearing more about this topic is due to ever-changing laws about how we deal with website visitors personal data.  The passing of GDPR made it a requirement that more information be provided to your customers as well as your website visitors up front so they know you are collecting data, what kind you are collecting and how you will be using it.  GDPR is a business law and how you handle it on your website is one piece of the puzzle.  If you are not currently in compliance with GDPR, you may want to look at this in the very near future.  While you may not be having visitors who are from the European Union (who GDPR impacts), it is likely that other governing bodies will begin to take the same or similar stand on these issues.

For more information on GDPR, visit here.

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