All you need to know about cookies

The following ChillGlobal blog post will cover all you need to know about cookies!

You are without a doubt familiar with pop-up messages informing you that the website you are trying to visit makes use of cookies and that you will need to accept their 'cookie policy' in case you want to continue browsing that website. Usually you just click ‘accept’ without even considering what it is exactly that you’re accepting. Because honestly, what do you really know about these cookies?

For one they track your online activities. Basically cookies make your online experience personalized, but you could also say that they invade your online privacy. They aren’t malware, but cookies do come with a few security risks. Let’s set things straight once and for all with this blog post on all there is you need to know about cookies!

ChillGlobal protects your online privacy, but there are some things that are out of our control, because well, that’s up to you! 

Ok, about these cookies. They are small text files that are saved within your browser when you’re surfing the internet. The main usage is to personalize your browsing experience by tracking and storing some of your online activities. By identifying you, you’ll get a more tailored experience if you will. FOR SURE you have searched for something on Google and then all of a sudden all online ads are trying to sell you related products to your search? Well that’s because of cookies. Some people like it, others don’t. On the bright side, you get ads that fit your demands better and sometimes even a discount depending on the advertiser. On the other hand, it can give you kind of a ‘Big Brother’s watching you’ feeling. 

So where do these notorious cookies come from? They’re created once you access any website that uses cookies. Which basically means ANY website nowadays. The cookie is created by your browser once it receives directives from the website you’re visiting. Whenever you return to that same website, your browser sends your cookies to the server and in turn you get a personalized browsing experience.

Acutally there's  a couple of different uses of cookies:

Authentication: Once you login to a secure area of a website, for example Facebook or Gmail, their server will save a cookie which authenticates you. Without cookies your browser can’t remember your login details. For example, you’d have to log back into your e-mail every time you’re opening up a new e-mail, even though you’re already logged in. That’s because any e-mail or new page you’re opening within that website are separate from each other and can’t know what you’ve been up to on the last page. Thanks to cookies, the website can authenticate you wherever you enter. And that's pretty convenient don't you think!

Sessions: These are like “bookmarks” for websites because the website servers rarely have a “memory”. Every time you move forward to another webpage, the website’s server forgets all the info from the previous one. Shopping carts for e-commerce are a great example: If you add an item to your basket and then continue to browse, it’s thanks to the session cookies that the website knows what you’ve added to your basket. These cookies are usually valid until your browsing session ends.

Preferences: Did you notice how some websites lets you choose different layouts and other ways of customizing your usage of that site? That’s thanks to so called tracking cookies, which store all your preferences. These cookies can also be used to track your behavior on a website like Asos or Amazon. Have you noticed how you always get product suggestions that follow you all over their website but also on the internet as a whole? Every time you click on a product they inject your browser with a tracking cookie, even if you’re not logged in. Tracking cookies track your browsing habits over time and can be set to be valid for any amount of time: weeks, months or more!

How cookies affect security and privacy:

People tend to think that cookies are some kind of malware. They aren’t! They're just plain text files which can’t be executed nor self-executed. There’s no way for them to reproduce by themselves and spread to other networks or computers. However, having said that, they could be used for evil purposes if they’re used as a type of spyware. That’s why your anti-malware software could warn you against using cookies from some websites.

SIDE NOTE! There’s a big risk if your cookies are sent over the internet as clear text without any encryption. Keep in mind that anything personal could be saved into cookies, for example your SSN, credit card details, e-mail address and more. This means that if the cookies aren’t sent over HTTPS, they’re readable by anyone online. Any hacker connected to the same network as you can then use a "sniffing tool" and steal all your sensitive data.

So what can you do to minimize your use of cookies?

First of all, you can start using your browser’s private mode to disable cookies and prevent your browser from storing your web history. Very simple and straightforward! You can also use the Google Chrome 'Incognito' mode, which only saves cookies temporarily but long enough to for example complete an online shopping session.

Another option is to switch from Google to the privacy-oriented search engine DuckDuckGo which doesn’t store cookies, user logs, or IP addresses. If your major concern is that Google knows everything about your preferences and searches, this is a great option.

You could also manually erase your cookie history after each browsing session. But this is a bit tedious and easy to forget unless you set your browser to do so by default. Also, you’ll have to log back in to all of your regular websites which normally remember your login details. The obvious advantage is that you'll increase your online privacy and advertisers will know less about you and your personal online activities.

We hope that this article about all there is to know about cookies was useful and that you enjoyed the read! For more ChillGlobal blog posts on online privacy and security click right here.

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