Why are browser cookies important and when can they cause harm?
The words ‘browser cookies’ get thrown a lot in our digital community. However, have you ever wondered what these so-called ‘cookies’ actually are? Why are they so important and why are people constantly discussing them?
In this article we are going to focus on the value and significance of browser cookies, along with providing a couple of examples that can actually make them dangerous when it comes to your online privacy. Let’s dive right in!
What are browser cookies?
A browser cookie is a specific sequence of code generated by any website that you visit. These code snippets are stored in the Web browser and contain user information which can be used to identify a given user and improve their overall experience.
In particular, such cookies can collect information about your settings, your preferences, passwords, notifications and quick-access adjustments. While they are intended to simplify and improve user experience, browser cookies are also used for serving relevant ads.
Looking at browser cookies in more detail, one of their main functions is their ability to preserve information about a browsing session. For example, if you log into a particular site, it will have the ability to save your credentials by using the information that you have provided in your current session. This will then not require you to have to re-enter anything the next time you visit.
However, as we already mentioned, cookies play an important role when it comes to online advertising. There are many third-party browser cookies, generated by external parties and companies, placed on the websites that you regularly visit, which all collect information about your interests, location, search history and other types of potentially sensitive data.
The extracted information is then provided to said parties, allowing them to tailor their advertisements so that you can be easily targeted by products and services which you might need. While harmless at a first glance, such cookies can interfere with your information security and data privacy and can sometimes lead to more serious cybercrime if exploited.
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First-party vs Third-party browser cookies
Although different in name, these two types of browser cookies are quite similar. The only thing that sets them apart is their origin and how they are saved within the browser.
First-party cookies - website native resources
These are the normal, traditional cookies that are collected directly by the websites that you visit.
They are native in origin and allow basic functionalities of the site to work as intended. Examples of such functions include remembering your preferred language, storing your username and password for easy access and keeping track of any settings, bookmarks or changes which you have manually made to your website settings.
Such cookies are generally deemed to be safe, as they are not shared with external parties, therefore there is no subsequent risk of data leaking or your personal information being exposed. Some websites can use your interests internally to present you with products or services that you might be interested in, but this data is not sold to anyone else.
Third-party cookies - foregin website resources
Third-party cookies are created by 3rd-parties, meaning that they are foregin in origin to the websites that you visit.
The goal of these cookies is to track, store and share various types of internet activity information. As we previously mentioned, such cookies are widely used for displaying personalized ads, based on the user profiles that are generated by using the data gathered by third-party cookies.
The same instance of one third-party cookie can be implemented in multiple websites, meaning that it is capable of tracking your online activity.
Let’s say you are looking to buy a new car and you visit the top 5 results in your search engine results. Imagine that each one of those websites has the same third-party cookie snippet running. The fact that you have checked out these 5 websites would then indicate that you are looking to purchase a new vehicle, allowing advertisers to display relevant ads to other websites that you visit and the applications that you use.
This data is then processed and a special user profile is generated for you, which includes your interests, preferences and buyer needs. Data is then transferred over to the companies operating these third-party cookies, which can then be sold to advertisers. However, this information can also leak during the entire process, resulting in your privacy being breached.
Even though all data is anonymized by default, information such as your geographical location, search history and browsing activity can all be extracted by skillful hackers.
This is also the primary reason why third-party cookies have been slowly becoming a public enemy with more and more awareness about online security and privacy being spread now more than ever before.
The public mindset about internet privacy
Security and personal data protection are topics that are being covered in significantly more detail over the last decade.
Users are beginning to wonder how to protect their privacy online, which has consequently sparked a public debate. Large tech companies are taking action such as Google, which plan to end third-party cookie support for Chrome by the end of 2022.
Additionally, we have also seen the introduction of multiple digital laws to help protect users’ privacy such as the GDPR in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act in the United States.
Overall, the general public insists on keeping things as transparent as possible, being able to have a choice and control over the information that they provide over the Internet.
Why do website owners use third-party cookies?
The majority of site owners collaborate with major tech giants such as Meta, giving them access to the information they collect.
In return for this data, site operators get full access to all of the important in-depth market analysis tools to better operate their website.
The most popular tool used to collect such data is Google Analytics. Most marketing experts believe that it gives the clearest idea of user behavior and their interaction with a given website. Because of this, webmasters believe that obtaining information about the visitors’ profile is of paramount importance for the analysis of digital marketing campaigns.
Our position at VPSBG, however, is completely different. We strive to constantly protect our users data at all times, which is why we do not use third-party cookies anywhere on our website! Additionally, we also accept cryptocurrency payments, allowing you to remain anonymous when making a purchase and protecting your privacy.