What exactly are “cookies” and should we be afraid?

Many of us accept cookies multiple times a day, but what do they do?

We’ve all done it; hit “accept” on a cookie warning without reading the terms and conditions. Very often we do it just to get rid of the banner; but should you pay closer attention to those Ts&Cs?

Let’s start from the very beginning.

A cookie is a text file, containing a site name and a unique user ID which is downloaded onto your device when you visit a site. If you visit that same site again, your device checks to see if the cookie is relevant and sends that information back to the site. Why?, I hear you ask.

Sophisticated sites use the information sent back from your device to tailor their offering for you. This works well for online shopping sites. ‘Cookies’ are what makes a particular site remember what you left in your cart, for example. They help the site learn your layout preferences, how long you spend on a site and even if you have a background colour preference.

Some people, however, are not fans of cookies. There was a sense of paranoia about the cookies for a while and it was somewhat justified at the beginning. Devices were being used, without the knowledge or consent of the user. This is why we now have banners on sites asking for user consent.

Cookies don’t gather particularly sensitive information. It’s more about habit learning than anything else, but there are those who dislike the idea of information of any kind being stored by businesses.

You don’t have to accept “cookies” when you visit a site, but the service is enhanced in many cases by doing so.

How to delete cookies:

It’s possible to delete cookies from any browser. Here’s how to erase them all via Google Chrome.

  • Within Chrome, open the menu tab in the upper-right corner.
  • Settings > Show Advanced Settings > Content Settings
  • From there you will be faced with four options for dealing with cookies.
  • These are: store all cookies without discretion, store all cookies but delete once the browser is closed, block entirely (not recommended) and block third party tracking cookies.

As mentioned, there’s nothing to fear when it comes to cookies, but knowledge is power. You can decide to accept, or not, as you browse the web.