Internet Cookies: Are They Watching You?

What exactly are internet cookies?

Perhaps you’ve seen the pop-ups on websites asking you to “accept cookies.” I’ll outline an all too common scenario of how internet cookies are used.

You open your web browser and search for a product. It doesn’t matter what it is, maybe you wanted to buy it, but they didn’t have it in your size. Perhaps they had your size, but it was too expensive. Maybe after browsing, you realize that there wasn’t anything that interesting. Whatever the case may be, you know you won’t escape the impending wave. You know what I’m referring to. The next thing you know, you can’t surf the web or browse social media without being bombarded by ads for a product you may not even want. Gone are the days of “just looking.”

We’ve all been there before.

It’s time to remember some words of warning from Laura Numeroff’s first book in her If you give… series: “If you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll probably ask for a glass of milk.”

This is to say that a cookie is never just a cookie, and ironically, the same can be said about internet cookies and data privacy.

internet cookies and mouse

We’re all too aware of those popups on most websites asking if you’ll accept cookies – a fancy way of asking if they can track your activity on the website. But what does that mean? How do they work? Are they watching you through your camera as you navigate the site? Not really, it’s more subtle than that.

Let’s break it down.

Cookies were first introduced by Netscape in 1994 to acknowledge whether a user had previously accessed a site and save their preferences. This technology enabled the first e-commerce websites to function by keeping items that a user placed in their shopping cart. Cookies were intended to enhance the experience on the website because the internet was not constructed in a way where it would remember a user’s session automatically.

“So, if they’re not dangerous, why, are we talking about cookies?

Well, this is where things get interesting.

Just like a bakery, the internet has numerous types of cookies. Some are quite harmless and improve user experience, others less so. It’s essential to understand the distinction between the three main types.

3 Types of Internet Cookies

  • Session Cookies: These are temporary cookies that the website uses to help ensure a smooth experience. An e-commerce website uses these cookies to remember the items in your shopping cart; otherwise, the site would treat each click as if you were a new visitor.
  • Persistent Cookies: Persistent cookies are also intended to improve your experience on a website. Also known as “first-party cookies,” these cookies help remember website passwords and preferences such as language. Typically, these cookies are safe, but anytime your password is saved, there’s plenty of room for things to get dicey.
  • Third-Party Cookies: These are the oatmeal raisins of internet cookies. You bite into it, thinking it might be oatmeal chocolate chip, but by the time you realize, it’s too late. 3rd party cookies are used by advertisers to track your search history, location, age, preferences, and other sorts of personal information to send you custom advertisements. At first, you jump for joy because you see ads for products that interest you. Unfortunately, too many of these marketers, you’re no longer seen as a human being. You’re a number they can sell to.  

 So, what can you do?

  • Use web browsers like DuckDuckGo or Startpage which protect your data privacy
  • Delete your cookie cache at least once every two weeks
  • Start using a password manager such as LastPass or Dashlane, and stop storing passwords in your browser.
  • Opt-out of third-party cookies. California residents – this is your right, protected by the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Companies who do not comply face a $7,500 fine for EACH violation.
  • If you’re living in another state, write to your state representative, asking them to act and act fast.

We know access to an adequate education is a global challenge, and data privacy education is no different. The nuances of the internet are not something most people understand, and it grows more intricate each year. Consequently, we shouldn’t be expected to understand the jargon and fine print that lawyers and corporations use to muddle the meaning embedded in terms of service agreements: less manipulation, more transparency.

Perhaps it’s now finally time to reconfigure the internet to support the newer functions and simultaneously improve data privacy. It’s just a thought, but maybe that’s how the cookie crumbles.

Until then, take steps to protect your online privacy and join the movement. If you want to continue learning about data privacy, find and follow us on Quora @ Presence Global, let’s start a conversation. We asked some data privacy pros for their advice, find out what they recommended:

Read our blog post on 10 tips to better protect your online privacy.

Join the movement #PrivacyFirst

Aug 18, 2020 11:11:01 PM

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