Cookies are tracers placed on a user’s computer by a website or application. These trackers collect data that is used to provide the user with a more accurate and relevant Internet experience. There are two main types of Internet cookies: first-party cookies and third-party cookies or web tracking cookies.
First-party cookies are stored by the website you are visiting. For example, a website may track your activity for the purpose of analyzing the most popular pages on its website. Cookies are also used to remember user settings, login information and other useful information. First-party cookies are used to simplify a user’s experience on the website.
Third-party cookies or web tracking cookies are mostly created by domains other than the one you are currently viewing, which mostly come from a third-party web analytics application. They collect website data and help deliver relevant advertisements to you. For example, if you visited the Adidas website and viewed a specific shoe, a cookie may be placed in your browser. When you later visit Facebook, the third-party cookie is used to show you ads for that shoe on Facebook.
Most users accept first-party cookies because they want a good experience on a specific website. However, third-party cookies are used for retargeting and advertising, which many internet users find invasive.
This information may be stored temporarily or permanently.
Sometimes users wonder if it is safe to store this information in cookies. Should I delete cookies? To answer these questions, it does not hurt to first analyze the advantages and disadvantages of cookies, their advantages and possible disadvantages.
Here are some facts about cookies:
• Cookies are domain-specific, ie one domain cannot read or write to a cookie created by another domain. This is done by the browser for security reasons.
• Cookies are browser specific. Each browser stores cookies in a different location. Cookies are browser specific and therefore a cookie created in one browser (e.g. in Google Chrome) will not be accessible by another browser (Internet Explorer/Firefox).
• Most browsers store cookies in plain text text files. It is therefore not secure at all and no sensitive information should be stored in cookies.
• Most browsers have restrictions on the length of text stored in cookies. It’s 4096(4kb) in general but it can vary from browser to browser.
• Some browsers limit the number of cookies stored per domain (20 cookies). If the limit is exceeded, new cookies will replace old cookies.
Benefits of web tracking cookies
• Cookies are easy to implement because they support the client side. They hold a specific domain. Each domain has its own cookies. No domain will share its cookies with another domain and this is what makes them self-sufficient.
• Users or customers can easily enable or disable cookies if they find them on any site.
• Cookies take up less storage or memory. They do not require any server resources and are stored on the user’s computer so that there is no additional load on the server.
• Cookies operate transparently, the user is aware of the information stored.
• Cookies can also be configured to be available for an extended period. As soon as cookies are saved on the user’s hard drive, they will be available until the user deletes them manually. Even if the server goes down, information can be retrieved from cookies.
Disadvantages of web tracking cookies:
• Cookies have no restriction set because as the user browses the internet from the browser, more and more cookies are consumed by the browser and they will be stored in the user’s system for some time. Unless the user deletes them manually. Stored cookies will take up a lot of the user’s storage space and eventually slow down the user’s browser.
• Cookies are always stored in text format files and this can increase security risks such as theft of cookies, exposure of sensitive data, etc. Any attacker can view these files and steal sensitive cookie information.
• Privacy is a major concern for cookie users. Whenever the user uses the browser to surf the Internet, all cookie-enabled sites will be able to track all the user’s activities.
• All browsers have a feature to disable cookies, but there is a catch – all websites are designed in such a way that if users disable cookies, most websites will not work properly or the user will not will not be able to properly view the information on this website.
• Encrypting and decrypting cookies is a difficult process as it requires additional programming and cookie information can be stolen if the session is not encrypted.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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