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What are Browser Cookies?

Article Details
  • Written By: Gabriele Sturmer
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2017
    Conjecture Corporation
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Cookies, in computer terms, are text files stored on a computer's hard drive to hold personal information about the user or save user preferences for a website. Web browsers use browser cookies to store information obtained from a website's server. Web browser cookies can save the user time, because he or she won't need to select site settings manually for each visit. Although many sites use cookies, web browsers usually include an option to enable cookies or disable cookies if the user is concerned about potential privacy issues.

Common types of cookies include first-party, third-party and session cookies. While first-party cookies save information from the website the user is currently visiting, advertisers use third-party cookies to keep track of a user's browsing activities. Some users are concerned with third-party cookies, so most popular web browsers include an option for rejecting third-party cookies, and programs are also available that can delete stored third-party cookies. Session cookies are temporary and only maintain user settings for a short period of time. An example of session cookies in use includes the online shopping cart feature at shopping websites.

Depending on the visited website's content, browser cookies can store a variety of information. Some maintain the user's username and password so the user does not have to log in each time he or she visits the website. Other cookies may store information on how the user customizes a web page's appearance. For example, the user may choose a specific theme to use for a forum or online email account. Some websites also use cookies to keep track of the pages the user visits on the site and uses the information to recommend pages with similar content.

Although browser cookies do have useful functions, some users fear they take away some privacy. The main issue is with third-party cookies that follow the user's interests and gather information for website advertisements and pop-ups. In addition, some users do not like the idea that websites can monitor the pages they visit. Cookies also can create a privacy concern if multiple users use the same computer.

Most web browsers give the user control over which cookies to accept and to deny and also have an option to deny all cookies. Denying all cookies may seem like a good idea, but some websites do not function properly without the capability. Disabling third-party cookies instead can avoid many privacy concerns without harming functionality.

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