What are Cookies?

shutterstock_254668174Have you ever searched for something, then clicked to a different website to see advertisements for your searched item on that webpage? It’s no coincidence. It’s because of your cookies, and in this post, we’re going to explore what they are, how they are used, and why you need to be aware.

According to WhatAreCookies.com, cookies are “small files which are stored on a user’s computer…designed to hold a modest amount of data specific to a particular client and website, and can be accessed either by the web server or the client computer.” In layman’s terms, cookies are bits of your web history collected on you to create a mini-profile of your online behavior. Each tidbit of information stays on your computer for about 10 days. For example, if you stumble upon vacation getaways on Groupon, your computer will remember your recent interest in travel for about a week and a half. If you are continually searching vacations, though, your cookies will become more enamored with this topic. While the original “Groupon vacation” cookie may delete itself after 10 days, the other travel-related cookies remain and will continue to have influence.

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What influence do cookies have? Many ask this question, and the answer is that its influence is great. Your web browser takes these cookies and uses this information to help companies advertise to you. Anything from banner ads to sponsored pages or posts on social media use cookies to find content that best fit your interests. Essentially, cookies allow your web browser to play matchmaker, introducing or reintroducing you to brands/websites/services that you show an interest in.

This can be awesome. Cookies can help you discover new interests, remind you of websites you’ve been meaning to revisit, and create a more appealing environment on a webpage where advertising is placed. Personally, if I must see ads on webpages, I’d rather see ads targeted to my interests than ads that have no relevance to my life.

That being said, cookies are still computer-generated, meaning that they can sometimes go into overload, creating a targeting excess and completely overwhelm the audience. For example, I once searched Amazon for fake grass. I went to the next webpage and was greeted by this:

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My cookies said that I had recently been looking up AstroTurf, and for whatever reason, my cookies went haywire and bombarded my web ads to all faux grass-related content. It were simply doing its job, but this excess can be a turn-off for some.

Cookies can also be awful around the holidays or birthdays. For example, let’s say your wife’s birthday is coming up. This year is a milestone birthday, so you’re wanting to buy her a diamond necklace. On your home computer, you’re searching jewelers, price comparing, and searching high and low for the perfect present. You close your web browser and leave the computer. Your cookies have saved this web session, though, and they know you’re doing extensive research on jewelry. Since this is a recent interest, your web ads are now frequently promoting jewelers and necklaces to buy online. What if your wife uses the computer? Now that special surprise isn’t such a surprise.

There are ways around this, however, such as using a private browsing window. Private browsing windows do not save your web search history, the websites you visit, or anything you do. It’s like the web session never happened as soon as you exit the session. These windows are best for these types of online searches since it will not store any information to cookies, therefore, there will be no proof (i.e., web ads) of anything you looked at.

Some have privacy concerns with cookies. This is an understandable concern considering if the tracked cookies are relayed to a third-party (advertisers), this may seem invasive. However, cookies store no information other than that your computer accessed this information, therefore, there is no threat to your privacy with cookies. Because of the enhanced customization, cookies can actually be a welcome addition to your web browsing.

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If you feel that cookies aren’t right for you, you can delete your cookies or disable them entirely. Check the privacy settings on your web browser to find out how to do this.

 

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