All you need to know about internet cookies

Surely if you’re an active user of the internet you must have come across cookies. What are cookies? Cookies are small text files placed on a user’s computer (or smartphone), which are commonly used to collect personal data. Most website operators place cookies on the browser or hard drive of their user’s computer. Cookies can gather information about the use of a website or enable the website to recognize the user as an existing customer when they return to the website at a later date. This file is neither a virus nor spyware. They are widely used to make the web experience more personal, which is generally seen as a positive thing. However, some cookies collect data across many websites, creating ‘behavioral profiles’ of people. This use of cookies for targeting in particular is what the law was designed to highlight. By requiring websites to inform and obtain consent from visitors it aims to give web users more control over their online privacy. These profiles can then be used to decide what content or adverts to show you. The law protects website users and lets them opt-out from the use of cookies on their website browser.

They are mainly two types of cookies which are; session cookies and permanent cookies. Session cookies also known as ‘temporary cookies’, help websites recognize users and the information provided when they navigate through a website. Session cookies only retain information about a user’s activities for as long as they are on the website. Once the web browser is closed, the cookies are deleted. These are commonly used on shopping websites or e-commerce websites. Permanent cookies also known as ‘persistent cookies’, remain in operation even after the web browser has closed. For example, they can remember login details and passwords so web users don’t need to re-enter them every time they use a site. The law states that permanent cookies must be deleted after 12 months. Other cookies include third party cookies, flash cookies and zombie cookies.

The basics of cookies revolve on three overriding aspects; informing the user that the cookies are there, telling them why and what they are being used for and most importantly getting the users consent to store the cookie on their device. Consent must be freely given, specific and informed. It must involve some form of unambiguous positive action, for example by ticking a box or clicking a link. The user must fully understand that they are giving consent hence consent cannot be given where only part of the privacy information is given or is difficult to understand. To ensure that consent is freely given, users should be able to disable cookies.

In this era of technological advancement protection of data is something that can no longer be ignored hence we must endeavor to stay informed. Cookies are an important aspect to the operation of the internet and data management.