What Are Computer Cookies?

Gal Ringel
3
min read

Computer cookies also go under different names like HTTP cookies, web cookies, internet cookies, ’magic cookies,’ or browser cookies. The definition of the term ‘computer cookies’ is files of data that a computer receives and then sends back without changing or altering it.

What Are Computer Cookies?

Essentially, when cookies reside on a website, it means that the website is collecting data, such as a username and password, that is used to identify your computer while you are using a computer network. Anytime you visit a website, that website sends an information packet, a cookie to your computer.

What are cookies used for?

There are five basic reasons why websites use cookies:

  • The first reason is to recognize your computer.
  • Secondly, the purpose of cookies is to tailor your website experience.
  • The third reason is to track your activity as you navigate a specific website.
  • The fourth reason is to analyze your use of a certain website.
  • The fifth reason would be to make the website as usable as possible.

What are the different types of cookies on websites?

Cookies are essentially divided into three groups - persistent cookies, first-party/session cookies, and third-party cookies. So, what is the function of each of these types of cookies?

A persistent cookie stores data for an extended period of time and has a specific expiration date. It also stores your username and password so that you may log in immediately and easily when you access the website again. 

For its part, the first-party/session cookie is a temporary cookie. As soon as you close your browser, these types of cookies are deleted. Usually, the purpose of such cookies is to keep items in your shopping cart even if you navigate to another web page.

A third-party cookie also goes under the name of a tracking cookie. Its main purpose is to collect data about your online behavior. A third-party cookie is also used by advertisers to display ads based on your online activity.

Reasons to enable or disable cookies:

Based on the definition, meaning, and use of online cookies, there are both reasons that may cause you to enable and disable them while browsing the internet.

The key reason to enable the cookies while browsing lies in the fact that they ensure that you have a smooth browsing experience and that everything on each website you visit functions as it should. For example, cookies can be useful as they keep track of items in your shopping carts and save your personal information — including login credentials — so sites can remember you and your preferences.

On the other hand, there are times when you may want to protect your online privacy by preventing any tracking of your browsing history. In the event of a cyber-attack, hackers can gain access to your cookies and use them to follow you around the web and take advantage of your personal information.

Another scenario is when you use a public or shared computer, and you don’t want the next person using the computer to have access to your browsing history and searches.   

All website browsers provide instructions on how to enable or disable cookies, usually provided in the settings or preferences menu. You should make a conscious decision depending on your needs and the situation whether to enable cookies or not.