Posted on 

May 30, 2022

What is a cookie? Everything you need to know about HTTP cookies

Rachel Lee
Content writer

Even though we all spend large amounts of time on our computers using an internet connection, very few of us fully understand all the ins and outs of online activity. The IT world is full of hard to decipher jargon and vocabulary. One term that you may have heard before is cookie or http cookies. But what is a cookie or a computer cookie? 

Here, in this blog, we investigate cookies. More precisely, we answer what is a tracking cookie and what is a spy cookie. In doing so, we explore whether third party cookies are good or bad as well as how to get rid of tracking cookies if you wish to. For, by understanding what is a cookie/cache, you can make fully informed decisions about cookie manager usage or a digital cookie login. As you will see, to some a tracking cookie does not give reason to be concerned. Whereas for others both third party cookies and first party cookies are a huge worry. 

What is a cookie?

So what is a computer cookie? Cookies are pieces of information that can be used to identify your computer when you are connected to a network. More exactly, there are http cookies that can be used to establish particular users. The aim is to enhance a person’s online usage. Internet web browsers use internet cookies to save information about a user and their personal data. That information can then personalise future website visits by remembering who the user is. The result is, websites can remember what our previous visited pages are, amongst other uses. 

There are different types of cookies. First party cookies are ones that a website you use creates. These are largely viewed as the safest type of cookies. In the main, you can be confident that well respected sites will use first party cookies or ones that have not been breached in any way. 

Third party cookies are the type of cookies that you need to be more wary of. They are exceedingly common however and sometimes referred to as a spy cookie. But what is a spy cookie? They are created by sites that are actually not the website a user is currently viewing. Ads on the page that a user is viewing are what create the cookies in the first place. These are the type of cookies that companies use to gain more information on your online behaviour. They do so in an effort to direct their marketing at you in a more targeted way. 

Is a tracking cookie good or bad?

While the handling of data found by tracking cookies is subject to GDPR compliance, it is hard to say outright whether cookies are good or bad. Some do not like that their online activity can be tracked through the use of http cookies. For that reason, cookies can be referred to as a tracking cookie as the data stored can help identify you as well as be stolen by hackers. 

Even those of us who lead a squeaky clean lifestyle may get a little nervous about how a tracking cookie can be used for detrimental effect. Despite being created to help users have a smoother online experience, http cookies do store your data. If that data falls into the wrong hands, it can be used for identity theft amongst other ill gotten gains. Plus, we all want to have a certain level of privacy. Cookies can work against us by tracking our online movements. 

In short, when using first party cookies or third party cookies, your privacy is, without doubt, compromised. How cookies are used on your computer and by you can be altered through your cookie manager however. As a result, you can make use of cookies to enhance your online experience as much as possible without compromising your privacy.

How to get rid of tracking cookies

So how exactly do you get rid of tracking cookies if you do not want third party cookies running on your computer? Luckily, even those who are not particularly technical will be able to limit the amount of http cookies used on their machine or mobile device. Remember however, when you turn cookies off, your online usage may not be as straightforward as it once was. You will have to enter your information each and every time you visit a website or web page - whether you have visited it before or not. 

To turn them off entirely, you need to go to your device’s settings. There, go to the privacy session. This will often be filed under Internet Options or the Advanced menu. From there, you will need to follow your device or software’s particular process of removing cookies. If you do not want to remove your cookies altogether, there will also be options available to manage them to limit what they can and cannot do. 

Additionally, to remove tracking cookies already on your computer you may want to use your online security software. Pieces of software like a VPN can help keep you totally anonymous while you are using the internet. Finally, even if you do not want to remain totally anonymous and you allow cookies on your machines, it is still good practice to go to your cookie manager and clear up your cookies regularly. 

What is a tracking cookie - overall takeaways

Understanding cookies and what are cookies used for is crucial to keeping yourself and your business safe. Being able to answer what is a cookie internet software program means you have armed yourself with the knowledge that your cookies can identify you. It also means you realise that your data can be taken advantage of. Some will use it simply to target marketing and advertisements at you in a more focussed way. However, others will have malicious intent and seek to hack your data to help commit online crime. Knowing what is a cookie internet software program is therefore, and how it can be used is essential to your overall cyber security approach.

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