Cookie, anyone?

Cookies make your internet life easier, but they open the gates to online privacy infringement, some say. But then, I say, ask yourself: “What’s more important to you – a smooth, personalised internet experience on the one hand, or keeping your browsing habits private on the other?”

Cookies are small files that are automatically – meaning, without telling you – downloaded onto your computer when you visit a particular website. Cookies can be downloaded directly from the website you visit, or from third-parties like advertisers that have been given access to the website you visit.

 

SCARY?

Not really. Cookies establish a connection between your computer and a particular website, with the aim of making your user experience on that website more personalised. For instance, cookies are a necessity for some website functionalities like shopping carts, preferential website settings or profiles. So, next time you see a website say something like “Hello {yourname}, welcome back” or “You have 2 items in your shopping cart”, you’ll know, the cookie is at work.

STILL NOT SCARED?

Cookies are of particular importance to online advertisers and marketers. Personalising your user experience means that some personal information about your computer and about you is automatically recorded and stored. This may include your IP address, the date on which you have visited a particular website as well as preferences or profile settings you have selected for a particular website. Needless to say, this is the kind of information advertisers and marketers are very, very interested in, because it helps them to fine-tune marketing campaigns and advertisements that are shown on the websites you visit.

NOW THAT YOU’RE SCARED, WHAT CAN YOU DO?

So then, up to you to make a choice next time you are greeted by a website that claims to be your friend, suggests shoes that would go really well with the dress you bought online last week, or knows that your favourite colour is green. What’s more important to you? A smooth, personalised internet experience on the one hand? Or keeping your browsing habits private on the other? All major internet browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer and Safari) allow you to manage cookies in their privacy settings, by viewing a list of cookies that have been downloaded onto your computer, and giving you the option to delete cookies or disable cookies on your computer altogether. The European Commission – the first government to do so in the world – has taken this one step further. When visiting European websites, you are likely to come across a message such as this: “Continuing to use our website implies that you accept our use of cookies.” This is because the European Commission is of the opinion that cookies should not be downloaded and should not be allowed to store information about you without your knowledge and permission. Notification of the use of cookies is obligatory for websites hosted in Europe.

MANAGE YOUR COOKIES

Internet browsers allow you to manage cookies. Here’s a list of the most popular internet browsers, and how to tell them what you want them to do when they come accross cookies:
Google Chrome
Mozilla Firefox
Apple Safari
Microsoft Internet Explorer


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