HTTP Cookies: An Invasion of Privacy or Necessary Data Collection? - Michal Tucker



Last month, I researched ways to start a blog through WordPress. Ever since then, mentions of WordPress and blog starter courses infiltrated every ad I saw. It creeped me out because I had no idea how every website I visited -- no matter its purpose -- suddenly knew exactly what I was looking for. If you have ever wondered why the exact product you had been thinking about buying magically appeared on a web advertisement, the answer is HTTP cookies!


Almost every time you visit a website, a little message pops up at the top of the screen, informing you that the website collects cookies. Because of how vague these messages are,

many people have no idea what they mean, and don’t bother to find out. An HTTP cookie, also known as a web cookie, stores user information. These cookies help websites keep track of your visits, activity, login information, and more! Contrary to popular belief, cookies do not actually contain text but rather a unique string of letters and numbers. Whenever you visit a website, the website downloads the cookie to your computer, and the computer stores it in a file where the website can later retrieve when you visit again.


Like the actual treat, there are different types of HTTP cookies: session cookies, persistent cookies, third-party cookies, and more! Session cookies are only stored on your computer for a session, meaning they are deleted when you leave the website. Persistent cookies are persistent, meaning they remain there and are reactivated every time you visit the website.


Persistent cookies can stay on a computer forever, but most of them have an expiration date that they will be removed by. They are primarily used for authentication, logins, and tracking the pages and products that you have viewed.


Privacy issues start to arise in the territory of third party cookies. Third-party cookies are linked to web advertisements and track your activity on any site that promotes them. You don’t even have to click on these ads for their cookies to store your information! Third-party ads are also harmful because they can be extremely hard to remove. Some sources call them “zombie cookies” because they are installed on your computer forever, regardless of how many times you try to delete them.


As you may have gathered, third-party cookies are the main reason why many people believe HTTP cookies are invasive. Cookie-enabled browsers, like Google, track every website you visit and allow third-parties to access your information. Third-parties can even include the government! Although third-parties usually need permission before they can access the

information, Google does not require this at all, which is something important to keep in mind when choosing a browser.


Cookies also bring about several security concerns. There have been many reports of security holes in browsers that hackers can use to their advantage to gain access to passwords and credit card information.


Despite the numerous risks associated with them, HTTP cookies can be beneficial to

companies, developers, and even visitors themselves! Cookies provide businesses with useful

data, such as how visitors found them, or how many times they visited. They enable online

stores to create personalized content for users and encourage them to keep purchasing

products. Cookies are also the reason everything in your shopping cart on Amazon stays there as you browse the site, and why different retailers are able to recommend products that you would actually love. All of this shows that cookies are a great marketing tool, and are

often essential to keep most sites running smoothly.


Overall, HTTP cookies are double-edged swords: although they may slightly invade your

privacy, they also make browsing the internet much more convenient. Personally, it’s a small

sacrifice that I’ll gladly make to have more efficient online experiences. However,

cookies are still another reason for you to be extremely careful with your information on the

internet!

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