Cookies are essential to web browsing, and no, we’re not talking about the ones you eat. Every internet user has heard of cookies, especially when clearing search history or visiting a site that claims to track them. But even though people are aware of them, there are a lot of misconceptions about what cookies actually do.

“So, you’re telling me there are no chocolate chips in this computer?”

What are cookies?

Much like how home-baked cookies are stored in a jar for later consumption, browser cookies are bite-sized pieces of information that websites store on your PC to track user activity and web preferences for future visits. For example, certain websites record your login information and save it on your computer with a cookie so you can stay signed in when you revisit the site.

There are other applications for cookies, too. Online retailers use cookies to keep track of the items you’ve placed in your shopping cart, so it doesn’t reset every time you click through another link. Ride-sharing software even generate cookies that remember your most frequently visited locations so it’s much faster to pick a destination.

The benefits

Cookies are a convenient way to save information from one web session to another. Normally, you need to provide your address and email information every time you buy something online. But if you enable cookies, you only have to do this once. The website remembers everything for you and fills out address forms instantly to streamline the ordering process.

What truly makes cookies so convenient is how it enables companies to serve up personalized content based on the user’s web activity. If you recently purchased a laptop from Amazon, for instance, the website will recommend related products like a mouse, USB drives, and other peripherals.

“Wow, Amazon, you know me so well!”

Businesses can even analyze cookies to better understand page visitors, where they are, what part of your website they click on, and their demographics, so you can make more effective marketing strategies.

The cons

However, cookies do pose unique challenges and risks. For starters, cookie-enabled services such as Google and Facebook tracks all the sites you visit and sells the information to third-party advertisers, which means any information you provide to a website may be used to deliver more targeted ads.

Secondly, since cookies are so essential for web browsing, hackers can develop malware disguised as cookies to target your website. Although such attacks are rare, it still highlights the importance of keeping your web browsers up to date.

How to ensure your privacy

If you are worried about companies tracking your information, you can always set your browser to block cookies from specific websites. In Chrome, you’ll need to go to Settings > Advanced > Privacy and security > Content settings > Cookies to specify which websites can save and read cookie data.

Clearing cookie data is another option, just bear in mind that you will be logged out of all the sites you use and all user preferences will be forgotten.

You can also choose not to store cookies at all, but this means you’ll constantly be swarmed with requests to save them and you won’t be able to use some sites which rely on them, such as banking and eCommerce websites.

Despite all the measures available for managing cookies, the best way to fully protect your online privacy is with Red Key Solutions’ comprehensive cybersecurity services. We provide VPNs and threat detection systems to ensure your data never falls into the wrong hands. Call us now.

Red Key is a leading cybersecurity company serving New York City, Westchester County, Fairfield County Connecticut, California & beyond. Click here to learn more.