We all know the ‘Allow cookies?’ message. This option now appears in practically all websites. In fact, nowadays more people associate the term ‘cookies’ with its Internet use rather than with its edible origin, this article details what are Cookies and tries to answer the question How do Cookies Work?

What are Cookies ?

A cookie is a piece of text that a Web server can store on a user’s hard disk. Cookies allow a Web site to store information on a user’s machine and later retrieve it. The pieces of information are stored as name-value pairs.

Cookies are small data packets which Web pages load on to browsers for a whole range of reasons. Every time you return to the same URL, the computer sends back this little package of information to the server, which detects that you have returned to the page.

When you access your email account or Twitter profile, it is cookies that allow your user name and password to be saved, so the next time you won’t have to enter them again.

More About How Cookies Work

But apart from storing strings of digits and letters, webmasters can use these tools for monitoring the activity of Internet users.

These virtual spies collect information about your Internet habits: the pages you visit frequently and the topics that interest you. The problem is that they usually share this information with data analysis firms or those that design targeted marketing campaigns.

If, say, an ad for a food product appears on your screen after you visit a restaurant page, don’t be too surprised. Thanks to cookies, advertising can be tailored to consumers’ preferences.

Even though cookies are safe and won’t usually infect your computer with malware, it is not always clear in whose hands the collected data ends up or where it is stored.

How do Sophisticated Cookies Work

Some cookies are more sophisticated. They might record how long you spend on each page on a site, what links you click, even your preferences for page layouts and colour schemes. They can also be used to store data on what is in your ‘shopping cart’, adding items as you click.

The possibilities are endless, and generally the role of cookies is beneficial, making your interaction with frequently-visited sites smoother – for no extra effort on your part. Without cookies, online shopping would be much harder.

Why are there Concerns ?

So why the paranoia? The answer probably depends on how you feel about organisations – both big business and government – storing information about you.

There is nothing especially secret or exceptional about the information gathered by cookies, but you may just dislike the idea of your name being added to marketing lists, or your information being used to target you for special offers.

That is your right, just as others are entitled to go along with the process.

When cookies first started to appear, there was controversy. Some people regarded them as inherently sneaky – your PC was being used (without warning) to store personal information about you, which could then be used to build a picture of your browsing habits.

Types of Cookies & How they Work

There are many examples of browser cookies being used multiple times in your everyday life (and for different things without you even knowing!). Below are just a few of them you are likely to encounter on a day-to-day basis:

Example of Browser Cookies:

Website Authentication: When you visit a website login page, a web server will send a cookie that has a unique session identifier. Once a successful login occurs, the server will remember your unique session identifier and grant you access to the service. Cookies also help sites remember your login info from previous sessions.

You have probably noticed that most times when you visit a website you have previously logged into, your username is already populated. This is an example of a browser cookie filling in that tidbit of information.

Shopping Carts: Have you ever added items to your shopping cart on an eCommerce site, navigated away from the site, came back the next day and your items were still in the cart? How did it know? This is because a cookie allowed to site to recall your shopping cart and place all of the items back in again.

Advertising/Remarketing: You once viewed a pair of shoes online or clicked an ad, and now you see that pair of shoes everywhere. Some people compare this experience to being followed by a digital stalker. In the advertising world, this is called remarketing and it is a surprisingly effective way to get people to convert on items they had previously abandoned. This works by google or some other marketing service cookie-ing your browser after you viewed an item.

Google knows that you had an interest in it, and can distribute ads for it across its huge advertising platform consisting of millions of sites. The concept is the more often you see the item, the more inclined you will be to eventually purchase it!

Personalization: Cookies can be used on websites to help them learn what your interests are. This can help them tailor specific content to your liking. Maybe you bought an eBook or a new shirt on an online store somewhere – cookies can allow the website to suggest a different book by the same author, or a pair of pants that would fit your wardrobe perfectly based on your prior purchase.

How to Delete Cookies from Your Browser

If you are using Google Chrome, clearing your cookies is a breeze! Just follow the steps below:

Step 1: On the top right of the browser, click the Chrome menu icon and select “Settings”

Step 2: On the left-hand side, choose “Privacy and Security”
Privacy and Security

Step 3: Under “Privacy and Security” click “Clear browsing data”
Clear browsing data

Step 4: Check off “Cookies and other site data” and click “Clear data”
Browser cookies and other site data

And that’s it! You have now just cleared all of your cookies for your browser.

How to Disable Cookies on Your Browser

If you decide that you want to disable cookies on your Chrome browser, follow these steps below:

Step 1: On the top right of the browser, click the Chrome menu icon and select “Settings”

Step 2: On the left-hand side, choose “Privacy and Security”
Privacy and Security

Step 3: Under “Privacy and security” click “Site Settings”
Site Settings

Step 4: Under “Site Settings” click “Cookies and site data”
Browser cookies and site data

Step 5: Under “Cookies and site data” uncheck “Allow sites to save and read cookie data (recommended)”
Allow sites to save and read browser cookie data (recommended)

You can also check the option below “Clear cookies and site data when you quit Chrome” as well if you want your cookies erased every time you close the browser. For instances where multiple people may be using one machine, this might be the better option.

How to Enable Cookies

In almost all cases, web browsers by default will have browser cookies enabled. But, if you would like the check, or turn them back on again in Chrome after previously disabling them now that you understand more how Cookies Work, simply follow the steps to disable, but instead re-check “Allow sites to save and read cookie data (recommended)” as your end step.