We’ve all been asked a thousand times recently if we “consent to cookies”. It does seem a bit unreasonable to assume that everyone is in-the-know and can make that decision.

So, what is a Cookie anyway?

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Rob Strover

Are cookies bad? If they’re not, then why would there be so much fuss about them in the recent GDPR legislation?

A cookie is created from instructions in website code.

In its simplest form.

An HTTP Cookie is a small piece of data stored on your computer by your web browser. A cookie is created from instructions in website code.

Give me an example.

A simple use of cookies is demonstrated below. Select your favourite colour from the three options and your choice will be stored in a cookie for ten minutes. During that time, if you refresh this page or navigate away and then come back, you will see your choice still displayed.

How are they used?

Cookies are often used to ‘remember’ a user’s preferences or presence on a website. When a website is loaded, the cookies created on that page are used to personalise the content and experience of the page. Cookies can also be used to track a user’s journey on a website, revealing browsing habits and potentially personal information.

An analogy of cookies could be a restaurant with numbered tables. The appropriate food (content) is delivered to each table (user) based off a table number (cookie). It is possible for each table to receive individual treatment due to the unique table number. This unique table number does mean however that the restaurant staff can track the entire order history of a table and deduce other things such as whether the table may want dessert.

The analogy above highlights both the functionality advantages and potentially negative privacy impacts cookies can have. An online shop can save items in a basket for you to purchase all at once thanks to a cookie, but this same technology is also used by social media sites such as Facebook and affiliate marketing networks to track what websites you visit and then target you with relevant advertising based off your browsing interests. Because this data is tied to your cookie on your device, this makes this data personally identifiable and subject to legislation.

Do you accept cookies?

For most people, (including me) this question is only an illusion of choice. For me to have a modern internet with web pages full of personalised experiences and functionality then I must accept at least some uses of cookies. Recent legislation now means that companies must disclose exactly how they are using cookies on but ultimately it is now up to us to understand for ourselves how each of our favourite websites use cookies and whether we agree to them.

About the author.

Rob Strover is a Web Developer at Fuel Integrated.

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