What Are Web Cookies? And Why Are They Such a Big Deal?

By now, most people are used to landing on a site where a notification comes up that the site uses cookies and asks if the visitor agrees to this. Most will just click yes and not give it a second thought. However, those who have websites should at least know the purpose of these as well as their importance.

What Are Web Cookies?

This is comprised of a code that allows for the tracking of certain types of information about visitors to a website. It gets downloaded to the device that a visitor to the site is using. 

What Type of Information Do The Cookies Collect?

They have the ability to glean different types of information about the visitor to the site, such as where they go when on the site.  Some cookies can store the log in credentials that are used on that site. The information gathered can be used for different purposes.

How Do They Work?

The process of how the web cookies work is fairly simple. The cookie is downloaded in the browser that the visitor used to get to the site with the cookies. The cookie is stored on the browser as a plain text file. The next time the visitor uses that browser to return to a site, then the browser opens that file and shares the information with the website. 

Types of Cookies

There are two main types of cookies. Which one the site uses depends on the purpose.

Session Cookies

Sites that are using these types of cookies are only collecting information that pertains to the visit that the visitor is making at the time. This is collection data from a single browsing session. This creates a better user experience. For example when a user is going from one page to another on a site they don’t have to authenticate each time they go to a new page. It is because the cookies have collected the authentication data from the first page visited.

Persistent Cookies

These ones are more long term the cookies stay on the browser that was used and continue to collect information for a period of time. The information gathered from this cookie is used to create better user experiences. They can help a website using them to determine the user preferences, for example. 

Cookie Categories

With the cookies being able to serve different functions they have be placed in different categories

Essential Cookies

This is part of the memory of the website. It is used to store the preferences of a visitor to a site. For example, if the site requires a log in, then the cookie stores the information used for this purpose. The user only has to log in when arriving on the site and doesn’t have to repeat this every time they go somewhere else on the site. 

Functioning and Performance 

Some cookies are required for certain actions to be completed on a website. They make it easier for the visitor to perform actions like watching a video on the site, for example. 

Analytics and Customizing

Web owners like to know what visitors are doing when they visit their site. There are cookies that can track this type of information.  The web owner can analyze that information and use it to enhance their site.

Advertising

Many sites have ads on their sites. When they use advertising cookies, it can tell them which ads the visitors have been exposed to. It can prevent those ads from re-appearing again where another one would appear in its place.

Social Networking

With this type of cookie, it allows for the sharing of information. The activity that takes place and the data pertaining to it can be shared with a third party. 

The Rules About Cookies

There was a lot of controversy over cookies. Due to the fact that they are capable of collecting a lot of personal data. Therefore laws were put in place to govern their use. 

General Data Protection Regulation

This regulator has set rules for the use of cookies. Those websites that are going to be using certain cookies must let the visitor know, and the visitor must give their consent to this. This is where a user will usually see a pop-up appear on a website advising of the use of cookies and asking for consent. 

The Exceptions

There are some cookies that are used that do not require notification or consent in most cases. This may pertain to performance cookies, essential cookies, and also functionality cookies. The laws put in place by GDPR are very complex and detailed.

Policies

The website that is using cookies has to have a policy in place that users of the site can refer to. This is within the privacy policy. It has to be detailed, explaining exactly what the information collected is used for along with other details. 

Every Country May Have Its Own Laws

Each country may have its own specific laws regarding the use of cookies. For example, there is a EU Cookie law, and there are laws in the US as well.

The Value of Cookies

Although a lot of people feel that cookies are a nuisance in respect to the pop ups, or that there are too many risks that come with them, they serve some good purposes for the website as well as the visitors.

For The Web Owner

The information collected can help the site owner create a better user experience for the visitors. It can help determine what is appealing to visitors and what is not. It can determine which advertising is going to work the best.

For The Site Visitor

As previously mentioned, some cookies are necessary to help make a site convenient for its users. In other cases the cookies can create a much better user experience. It can do this by allowing the site owner to analyze the information to determine which is the most useful for visitors. This, in turn, can enhance the visitors experience on different levels.