What are Cookies?

While cookies used to be something we all looked forward to, whether as a welcome-home-from-school snack or a tasty bribe to finish dinner, cookies in today’s world are both slightly confusing and suspicious. What are cookies? Why do websites need to let us know that they’re using them?

At the most fundamental level, cookies are what allow websites to know who you are. Because of that, many are able to log you in automatically or keep all of your items in your shopping cart days later. Tiny strands of data, cookies make your online experiences better, faster, and easier — for the most part.

Like the tasty treats, there are different types of cookies, which is part of the reason why websites let you know which type of cookies they’re “offering”. For the most part, cookies:

  • Save your password and login credentials
  • Keep track of websites you’ve visited
  • Manage your online shopping cart so that items stay put
  • Display specific ads that target you based on your online behavior


Where did cookies come from?

Although more people have become aware of cookies over the past year or two, the reality is that they’ve been around since the 1990s. Invented by Lou Montulli, cookies were designed to track the number of times someone visited a website and, more specifically, allow eCommerce stores to exist. But because people have become wary of being tracked, cookies have now become the subject of controversy.

It’s important to remember, however, that without cookies the internet could simply not exist the way it does today, especially in terms of online commerce.

Without cookies, items couldn’t be added to your virtual shopping cart, making it impossible for you to shop online for multiple items in a single store. In these cases, most online users understand why cookies are being used on a website, which is why online store owners should make this clear in order to avoid any confusion — and allegations of being “tracked”.


Should cookies ever be denied?

For the most part, cookies are safe to accept when you’re online, especially if you’re using sites that you trust. There is the possibility, however, that cookies can transfer malware, which is why you should always think twice before accepting cookies, especially if you’re on a foreign website or a website that isn’t an online store or that requires login. Even then, however, you can and should trust cookies.

There are several advantages to using cookies, both for the website and for the visitor, including:

  • Remembering your website preferences so that your online experience is tailored — the ads you see will be relevant, the search results you get will be more aligned with what you want, etc.
  • Not having to remember your passwords and usernames for every single website you use

It’s also good to remember that cookies can be managed and even deleted. That means if you accept cookies from a website, you can always say no or change your settings later on if you decide to do that — and it’s actually simple to do!

Occasionally, however, there are serious disadvantages to cookies which are good to keep in mind when you’re online. The most notable concerns with cookies include:

  • Having your information stored by third parties
  • Being tracked, leaving you with the unsettling feeling that someone really is watching you, which is why you’re seeing ads for things you’ve searched, etc.
  • Knowing that some viruses do come disguised as cookies

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