Most web browsers have cookies enabled by default, which means that sites can store small pieces of information on your computer without you even knowing it. While cookies are generally considered safe and harmless, there is some concern over whether or not they are bad.
Are computer cookies bad for you? The answer is: it depends. While it is true that cookies can pose a security risk, the truth is that they are generally safe for most users. Here is what you need to know about computer cookies’ potential risks and benefits.
What Are Computer Cookies?
Computer cookies, also known as HTTP cookie, web cookie, or browser cookie, are small, text-based files that a website stores on your computer by the websites you visit. These files typically contain information such as your preferences and login details. Cookies enable internet sites to “remember” you and your interests, making your online experience more convenient.
Cookies can help you save time by remembering your login details, so you need not input them every time you access a website. Cookies can also store items in your shopping cart on e-commerce websites.
The decision to allow the website access to cookie data saved on your computer is entirely up to you. Typically, you can change the settings in your browser to accept, block, or clear cookies.
Types of Computer Cookies
Knowing the different types of cookies can help you understand their potential risks and benefits. Commonly, you’ll find four distinct categories of cookies:
Session cookies: These cookies will only be operative while you are browsing. They allow websites to ‘remember’ you as you move from page to page. Any session cookies will be deleted when you sign out of a website or close your browser.
Persistent cookies: Also known as permanent or stored cookies, these files continue to exist on your device even after you have exited your web browser. These cookies can be used to store your preferences and login details and can also be used to track your browsing history.
First-party cookies: The website you are browsing is the one that sets these cookies. First-party cookies are considerably safer, provided that the website is trustworthy.
Third-party cookies: An external service provider, such as an advertising network or other businesses, sets these cookies. They allow these third-party companies to acquire information about you to deliver targeted ads. Since a third-party cookie may monitor your browsing habits, they are more likely intrusive and unsafe.
The Potential Risks of Computer Cookies
While computer cookies are generally considered safe and valuable, there is some concern about their privacy implications.
Track Your Online Activity
Most cookies only store the information you voluntarily provide. However, some cookies secretly track your web activity, which advertisers use for targeted ads. This type of targeted advertising is known as “behavioral advertising,” and it may not be easy to disable.
Risk of Session Hijacking
Session hijacking is a type of cyber attack in which the hacker takes over an active user session. It allows the attacker to access your account and perform actions on your behalf.
Store Sensitive Information
Cookies can gather Personally Identifiable Information (PII), including details like your name, email account, and IP address. If this information falls into the wrong hands, it can gain access to your accounts or commit identity theft. It is why it’s essential only to allow trusted websites to access your cookies.
In rare cases, cookies can potentially infect your computer with malware. It usually happens when you click on a malicious ad or link. It can also occur if you accidentally download a malicious cookie from a phishing email. If your computer falls prey to malware, it can easily monitor all your online activity and access any personal information associated with your accounts.
Take up Storage Space
Over time, cookies can take up a considerable amount of storage space on your computer. Although most people don’t think this is a significant problem, it can make your computer run slower and cause other issues.
The Potential Benefits of Computer Cookies
While some potential risks are associated with cookies, there are also some potential benefits.
Convenient Web Browsing Experience
One of the main benefits of cookies is that they can make your web browsing experience more convenient. Cookies can save your login details, making it easier to browse the internet by eliminating the need to enter the same information constantly. Moreover, cookies can remember your preferences, allowing sites to tailor their content to you.
Improved Website Functionality
Cookies can improve the functionality of websites. If you’ve added products to a shopping basket on a website, cookies will keep records of that information so you won’t have to input it again the next time you visit. Cookies can also save your preferences so that you don’t have to set them every time you visit a new website.
Delete Any Time
If you are concerned about the potential risks, you can clear cookies from your computer whenever you like. It will prevent websites from storing any personal data on your computer and make it impossible for them to track your online activity.
Should I Accept Computer Cookies?
The decision of whether or not to accept computer cookies is a personal one. You may consider the following factors before deciding whether or not to accept cookies.
- First, think about why the website is offering you a cookie in the first place. If it’s a reputable website that you trust, then there’s likely no harm in accepting the cookie. However, if you’re unsure why the website offers you a cookie, it’s best to err on caution and decline.
- Second, consider what type of information the cookie will collect. You have nothing to worry about if it’s just simple details like your personal tastes. However, if the cookie collects more sensitive information, like browsing habits, you may want to think twice before accepting it.
- Finally, remember that you have the option to alter your decision later. If you accept a cookie and decide you don’t want it, you can usually delete it from your computer.
Cookies on computers are generally safe. Accepting a cookie is usually harmless unless you have concerns about the specific website or the type of information collected. However, if you prefer to be safe, you may always decline cookies or remove them after browsing.
Instances When You Should Decline Cookies
Even though computer cookies are generally safe, there are some situations in which you should decline them.
Unencrypted websites: Unencrypted websites are those that lack the “https” at the start of the URL. These websites are less secure, so your information is more likely to be intercepted by hackers. For this reason, you should only accept an HTTP cookie from websites.
You’re using a public computer: If you’re using a public computer, it’s best to decline cookies. Since cookies remain on the computer, your data will be accessible to anyone who uses the computer after you do.
Cookies from unknown websites: If you don’t know anything about the website offering you a cookie, it’s best to decline. There’s always a chance that the website could be a scam, which means that accepting the cookie could put your information at risk.
Flagged cookies: Some cookies are flagged as “bad” by anti-virus software. It means that the software has identified the cookie as being potentially harmful. If you see a warning from your anti-virus software, it’s best to decline the cookie.
Managing Computer Cookies on Your Device
Here are a few pointers to help you manage the cookies on your device.
Check your browser settings
The cookie files on your device can usually be viewed, deleted, and managed through your browser. You can change these preferences in your browser’s “settings” or “preferences” section. From there, you should be able to see all the cookies stored on your device and manage them as you see fit. This way, you can set your browser to reject all cookies or accept only from selected sites.
Delete cookies manually
You can delete cookies manually if you don’t want to change your browser settings. To do this, go to your device’s “cookies” or “cache” folder and clear data files. Remember that doing this will remove all cookies from your device, not just the ones you want to delete.
Use a cookie management tool
If you want more control over the cookies stored on your computer, you can use a cookie management tool. These tools allow you to view, delete, and control cookies. Many of these tools enable the user to clear their cookies periodically. Some tools will also provide the ability to export and import cookie data.
Use a privacy extension
A privacy extension is a browser extension that safeguards your personal information. These extensions will disable cookies and some tracking techniques. They also frequently include attributes that let you control the cookies stored on your device.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Will using a VPN prevent tracking computer cookies?
A: No, a VPN will not prevent tracking cookies. However, a VPN can help to encrypt your data, which makes it more difficult for hackers to access your information.
Q: What happens if I decline a computer cookie?
A: If you reject a computer cookie, the website cannot store any data on your device. It means you cannot access the website features or content. In some cases, you may still be able to access the website, but it will be more challenging to use.
Q: Why do websites request that you accept cookies?
A: Websites request that you accept cookies because they need to store information on your device. Cookie technology allows website owners to track and analyze user behavior with their sites. This website data also helps to improve the user experience by making site design or content changes.
Most websites rely on some form of cookies, and by accepting them, you are helping to ensure that the website can continue to provide you with a high-quality experience.
Q: Does deleting my cookies after each web session protect me from tracking?
A: Yes, deleting your cookies after each web session will protect you from tracking. However, it is essential to note that doing this will also remove any preferences you have set on the website. For example, you may have to re-enter your login information if you have deleted your cookies and visited a website you typically use.
Computer cookies can be both good and bad for you. If you are concerned about your privacy, you can take steps to protect yourself, such as using a privacy extension or deleting your cookies after each web session. Accepting cookies is optional but recommended for optimal website experience. Remember to be careful about which cookies you accept, and always be aware of the potential risks.