Are Computer Cookies Bad? All Your Cookie Questions Answered

Are Computer Cookies Bad? All Your Cookie Questions Answered

Are computer cookies bad? How do website cookies work? Just what are cookies anyway?

If you’ve been asking these questions, we have the answers you’re looking for. Below is the only guide you’ll ever need on website cookies.

We’ll tell you what they are, what they do, and how to enable/disable them. We’ll also cover how safe they are and in what ways they could become a security threat.

Learn everything you ever wanted to know about cookies in the guide below.

What Are Computer Cookies?

A web cookie is a packet of information about a specific user’s activity on a specific website. The cookie file is stored on the user’s computer. It is put there by the website when the user visits the site for the first time.

When the user revisits the website, the site’s web server accesses the cookie. The server reads what it needs to know about that user’s past activity on the site.

In this way, the website can “remember” the user from their previous visits. Using this information, the website can deliver a personalized experience to each user.

What Kind of Information is Stored in the Cookie?

The data contained in the cookie is mostly a record of the user’s activity plus form data. User activity that may be recorded includes pages they’ve viewed on the site, searches they’re conducted, and items they’ve purchased. Form data includes things like login information and passwords.

What Does the Website Do With This Information?

There are many helpful ways that websites use such information. First, the website can discern the type of content you prefer based on pages you’ve viewed in the past. Then it can suggest personally relevant content you’re likely to be interested in

When a cookie saves your login information, the website can remember you when you return. It can log you in automatically (“keep you logged in”) so you don’t have to type in your password every time you visit.

Some websites can’t even function correctly without saving a cookie to the user’s computer. For example, cookies are what online stores use to remember the items in your cart. If cookies aren’t enabled, your cart will empty every time you click a link or refresh the page.

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Are Computer Cookies Bad?

Unfortunately, cookies aren’t always so helpful. While cookies are inherently harmless, there are some ways they can pose a security threat. Let’s explore some of these in detail.

Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies are somewhat sneakier than other cookies because they don’t come from the trusted sites you intentionally visit. Rather, they are installed by the third-party companies that are advertising on the sites you visit.

That is, some of the ads embedded on certain sites you visit can store cookies for the advertiser’s website on your computer. This can happen whether you click on the ads or not.

How Third Parties Use Cookies

Now, as we said, these cookies are just information packets. They can’t do anything to harm your computer or modify other files.

But they do provide a limited way for these advertisers to “spy on” your browser activity. Specifically, they can record your user activity across any and all of the sites they advertise on.

For example, let’s say you receive a third-party cookie from an advertiser on a blog you’re reading about tires. Then, you visit an online store on a different site and purchase tires. If the same third-party advertiser is present on this second site, they’ll record this activity, too.

The advertiser sees all your comings and goings among any sites containing their ads. They can use this information for market research and share it with all their friends! There are many who consider this an invasion of privacy.

Fake Cookies

Even worse, some of these “cookies” aren’t cookies at all! Cookies can sometimes be malware in disguise, though these are usually blocked by browsers and antivirus software.

One type that is particularly troublesome is the “zombie cookie.” These are named after their ability to recreate themselves automatically after they’re deleted.

They return again and again, no matter how many times you delete them. It is very difficult to remove them permanently, even with an antivirus program.

Cookie Hijacking

Furthermore, it is sometimes possible for cybercriminals to “hijack” your cookies. When this happens, the hijacker can obtain your browsing activity and form data.

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They can use your form data to hack your online accounts. Then they can falsely browse websites masquerading as you. Or worse, they can steal or modify your personal/account data on your accounts.

What Control Do You Have Over Cookies?

Fortunately, you have complete control over which cookies you allow on your computer or device, if any. Every browser on every device gives users this option.

The specifics of how to do this vary depending on the device and browser you’re using. But, in general, you’ll find the cookie settings under the privacy section of your browser’s settings menu.

In this section, you should be able to delete all cookies, enable all cookies, and or disable all cookies. You should also be able to set more specific controls, like not allowing third-party cookies or requiring permission every time cookies are created. You may be able to allow/disable cookies by individual sites as well.

Whatever device/app combination you’re using, though, you can easily find specific instructions for it. Mac users, for example, can learn how to enable cookies in any browser at https://setapp.com/how-to/enable-cookies-on-mac. Just do a quick search engine search for “cookie settings” plus your device and browser and you’ll find instructions without too much trouble.

Knowledge Is Power

So then, are computer cookies bad? Now you know how to answer (because it’s actually a matter of personal opinion).

Our assessment is that computer cookies are very helpful and basically harmless. Though, like anything on your computer, cookies can be hacked and used for evil.

And there are, potentially, slight privacy risks in enabling third-party cookies. But the data they collect and the way they share it isn’t really all that different than the privacy policies of most companies you use. Also, you can usually disable third-party cookies from your browser.

If this knowledge helped you, please share it with others so they can benefit, too.

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