What are web cookies?

If you have visited a website recently, no doubt you’ve seen a “Cookie Disclaimer” or “Cookie Consent” notification somewhere on the page that requires you to hit “Accept” to remove it.

So, what exactly is a “cookie” and what purpose do they serve?

Web cookies, also known as HTTP cookies, Internet cookies or browser cookies are small packets of data that track users and “recognize” them when they visit a website. In a nutshell, the cookie stores your activity on a website, and different types of cookies track different activities. “Tracking” cookies create a history of all your visits to a website, “session” cookies track your activity as you navigate a website but disappear once you leave it. “Authentication” cookies track log in information.

For example, a cookie is in action when you move items to your shopping cart, leave the website, and come back later to still find it there. Another is working when your username and password are stored on a website.

Benefits of cookies

From an individual standpoint, without cookies, whenever you left a website, it would reset, and you’d have to start over the next time you visit it. For example, you’d have to enter your shipping address every time you make a purchase. Cookies can save online shoppers time by enabling autofill or allowing them to store credit card information online.

From a business perspective, cookies identify visitors and can help to provide a custom experience. For example, cookies could show visitors products they recently viewed, keep items in a shopping cart or even recommend other similar products. They also offer a more seamless experience by storing contact and payment options. All that increases the chances that they will ultimately make a purchase.

Cookies also make it possible to offer visitors who have been to your website before a truly custom experiences. For example, a Welcome Back message could include an individual’s name and recent purchase.

Cons of cookies

When it comes to cookies, the biggest issues involve privacy and security. Because cookies track people’s online activity, third parties can access that information and use it to send people unsolicited advertisements. It can feel very invasive, especially if the websites they visited involve sensitive subject matter.

Additionally, cookies create an inroad for cybercriminals to gain access to users’ email address, passwords and even credit card information. So, security is consistently an issue. As a result, people are weary of cookies and many don’t want their info being tracked and stored.

To help protect people’s personal data and privacy, the GDPR established rules to enable individuals in the EU to have more control over how their data is used by businesses. If there is a chance someone in the EU could visit your website and you collect that data, you will need both a cookie consent banner and a privacy notice to comply with those laws. Fall to comply, and you could face a hefty fine, so it just makes sense to cover all bases and include one.

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