Why Are Internet Cookies Called Cookies?

From social media, online shopping, or anything we do on the internet, our personal information is being collected through cookies. Mostly known as HTTP cookies, internet cookies, or web cookies,  cookies are an important part of web browsing. It is what web developers use to collect data, such as your location, the pages you visit, and the items on your shopping cart. They then use these data to provide you with a personalised and convenient website visit. 

Internet cookies are an essential part of the modern internet. Basically, they are safe as they are not like a virus that can infect and harm your computer. However, they have the power to jeopardise your privacy. While most cookies are safe, they can be used by ill-intentioned individuals and criminals to spy on you. 

Although cookies and other related internet jargon may seem overwhelming to understand, a basic understanding of them is a huge help in keeping your information and internet activity safe.  

Cookies 

Cookies are small blocks of data that a web server sends to the user’s computer or other devices through the web browser. It is used to identify your device as you use a computer network.  

The data stored in a cookie is labelled with a unique ID to you and your computer. As the data transfer from the computer to the network server, the server reads and remembers the ID, and use it to provide you with a customised service.  

There are two types of cookies used on the internet. Although both have the same function, they are applied in different use cases. 

Magic cookie is the precedent of HTTP cookies. It refers to the data that is sent and received without changes. It is commonly used for logins to database systems, such as an internal network within a company or organisation.  

The HTTP cookie which we use in today’s internet browsing is a repurposed version of the old magic cookie. It is created by the Web browser programmer Lou Montulli in 1994 with the magic cookie as the inspiration.  

More About HTTP Cookies 

Specifically built for internet browsing, an HTTP cookie is used to track, save, and personalise each user’s session (the time you spend on a website). The data collected will be used to identify you when you visit a new website.  

The web server, where the data is stored, will send identifying info to your browser. The browser cookies, identified by name-value pairs, will decide where cookies should be sent or what data to recall. The cookie will only be sent by the server if it wants the browser to save it. The browser stores the cookies locally, and use them to recall the name-value pair that identifies you. 

Use of HTTP Cookies 

HTTP cookies are used by websites to simplify your internet browsing experience. This is the reason why you don’t need to log in on a website or put back products on your shopping cart again when you close your browser accidentally.  

These are the three most important ways cookies are used by a website 

To manage your session – the website will use cookies to recognise you and recall your log in information and preferences. 

To personalise your website experience – websites will use cookies to determine what you like and use the information to provide you with a personalised site visit experience. They also use cookies to build targeted ads that you might be interested in according to the items or parts of the site that you previously visited. 

To track your activities – websites, especially shopping sites, will use cookies to track the items you recently bought, added on the cart, or viewed. The data collected will be used to suggest other products that you might like or to keep the products in your shopping cart list while you continue to browse their store. 

When Cookies Become a Danger 

The data in cookies do not change, so they are safe. But cyberattacks are what we should be wary of. They are capable of hijacking cookies and enabling access to your session. Since they have the ability to track down browsing history, it could pose a great danger to your privacy. 

Depending on their origin, some cookies may face more danger than others. 

First-party cookies – these types of cookies are created by the website you are visiting. It is generally safe, given that the sites you visit are reputable and are not compromised. 

Third-party cookies are known to be risky. They are created not by the websites you are visiting but by other domains. They are mainly used by online advertisers. They place cookies on a website using scripts or tags.  

Visiting a site with multiple ads may generate multiple cookies, regardless of whether you click on their ads or not. These cookies are used by analytic companies and advertisers to track a user’s browsing history across all other sites that contain their ads. 

Zombie cookies

Like third-party cookies, Zombie cookies are also created by other domains. They can be installed on the computer, even if the user chose not to install cookies. The zombie cookie was first created from data stored in the Adobe Flash bin, hence the other term used for them are “flash cookies”. Even if they have been deleted, they can still reappear on the user’s computer. 

Zombie cookies are used by analytic companies to track a certain user’s history. At times, they are also used by some websites to ban a user. 

 

To Allow or Remove Cookies on Your Device 

Allowing cookies on your online browsing is optional. You also have to option to limit what cookies to allow on your computer or device. By allowing cookies, you will have a streamlined and more convenient web surfing experience.  

On the other hand, removing cookies on your device can help you prevent risks of privacy breaches. However, it can also make certain websites difficult to navigate and you will need to re-enter your data every time you visit a website.  

In a summary, cookies provide a smooth and convenient internet browsing experience. But to minimise risks, they have to be handled carefully. Regardless of how you handle cookies on your device, keeping on guard and cleaning it up regularly is a wise thing to do.