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What Are Browser Cookies, and Do You Need to Avoid Them?

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What Are Browser Cookies, and Do You Need to Avoid Them?

October 12, 2020

Have you ever had those annoying pop-ups asking you whether you accept or decline browser cookies each time you enter a new site? That’s a rhetorical question – if you’re on the internet reading this, of course, you did. But what exactly are these cookies, and how do they work?

People have varying opinions about them. Some don’t mind them one bit, while others claim they’re the most intrusive things in existence. Let’s dive deep into the world of browser cookies and see if they’re the monsters some make them out to be.

Crunching down on cookies

First things first, what exactly is a browser cookie? Simply, a cookie is a small piece of data that a website sends to your browser. This data is stored on your device and can be accessed by the website each time you revisit. Think of it as a digital ID card that helps websites remember you.

There are primarily two types: first-party and third-party cookies. First-party cookies are set by the website you’re visiting and are generally considered safe. Third-party cookies, however, are set by domains other than the one you’re visiting. These are the ones that often raise privacy concerns, as they can track your browsing habits across different websites.

Why do websites use cookies?

Cookies help websites remember your preferences. Have you ever wondered how a website greets you by name or recalls your last shopping cart? That’s cookies at work. With cookies enabled, once you log into a site, you don’t have to re-enter your credentials each time you navigate to a different page.

Also, cookies help websites gather data about user behavior. This helps site owners understand what content is popular and what needs tweaking. That was the good part. But what are the negatives that make people think twice about allowing cookies?

Some cookies are bad for you

While cookies can be super helpful, they rightfully raise eyebrows regarding privacy. Some cookies, especially third-party tracking cookies, monitor your online activities across multiple websites. This data is often used for targeted advertising. Have you ever felt like an ad is following you around the internet? Yep, now here’s the work of tracking cookies.

So, should you avoid cookies? Not necessarily. While it’s true that some cookies can be invasive, many are benign and make your online experience smoother. The key is to be informed and make choices that align with your comfort level.

Baking better online privacy with VPNs

You may have heard about this software many times, but what can you do with a VPN? Well, if you’re concerned about online privacy, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are a must-have tool in your digital arsenal. While VPNs don’t directly interact with cookies, they offer protection against online tracking.

How do VPNs work?

Every device connected to the internet has a unique identifier called an IP address. Websites and online services you use can see this address, revealing your general location. A VPN hides your real IP address, making it harder for websites to pinpoint who and where you are.

VPNs also encrypt your data, turning it into unreadable code as it travels between your device and the websites you visit. This means that even if someone intercepts your data, they won’t have a way to decrypt it.

How can VPNs enhance privacy in the context of cookies?

While VPNs won’t stop cookies from being stored on your device, they can make it harder for advertisers and websites to build a comprehensive profile about you. VPNs disrupt the tracking process by masking your IP address and encrypting your connection, giving you a more anonymous browsing experience.

Cookie management tips

If you’re keen on taking control of your cookie destiny, here are some quick tips:

  • Regularly clear cookies: Periodically clearing cookies from your browser can prevent them from piling up and tracking you over extended periods.
  • Utilize data-removing software: Such software exists to help you remove your information from the internet or, more specifically, from data brokers who collect your data without your consent.
  • Use Incognito/Private Mode: This mode doesn’t store cookies after you close the window.
  • Adjust browser settings: Most browsers allow you to manage cookie settings. You can block third-party cookies or all cookies if you wish.
  • Educate yourself: This might seem annoying, but before clicking “accept” on cookie banners, take a moment to read what you’re agreeing to. Some websites allow you to choose which cookies you’re comfortable with.

Conclusion

Like most things on the internet, cookies come with pros and cons. While they can enhance your online experience, it’s essential to be aware of their privacy implications.

By understanding the nature of cookies, using tools like VPNs, and actively managing your browser settings, you can strike a balance between enjoying a tailored online experience and maintaining your privacy. Remember, it’s your digital space; you’re the one who should decide who gets a piece of your cookie.

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