Privacy

What are cookies and what should I do about them?

Nov. 17, 2021 / My Data Removal Staff
Cookies

When you visit a web site, do you love the pop up asking you to agree to the use of cookies? Me neither. Pretty much every website you visit uses cookies and puts them on your computer and your phone. Some sites ask your permission before using cookies, while some of them won’t let you use their site until you click accept. Do you understand what you are actually accepting?

What are cookies?

Cookies are bits of information attached to your online activity that are used to identify you to websites and services on the internet.

What are cookies used for?

Cookies can be very convenient by letting you stay logged in to a site. If you had to enter your username and password every time you wanted to go into Gmail, it would be pretty inconvenient. Cookies are also the way advertisers and marketers track you. You get ads for what you recently viewed or what you think they are interested in.

Are all cookies the same?

There are two main types of cookies: first party and third party. First party cookies are cookies from the website you are visiting. A very common first party cookie will keep you logged in to an account.. In cookie lingo, they track your session. An example of this is when you log into your bank, cookies save your login info and let you stay logged in as you go to different pages on the online banking website. Facebook also doesn’t make you log in every time. They have a cookie on your device that tells them who you are, which allows you to stay logged in.

Third party cookies are more often the cookies we dislike. These cookies track you as you navigate to various sites and target you with specific advertisements based on your activity. Many websites have cookies from Facebook, Amazon, and Google. These cookies can provide extra revenue and/or website analytics for website owners. Some ad blockers will block some of these cookies.

Why do cookies matter?

Third party cookies follow what you do online. This is not good for your privacy. Some ad agencies out there build profiles on you and include your internet usage. They then sell this data to data brokers. If you care about your privacy and want to be proactive about what data people gather about you, you need to decide what to do about cookies.

What can you do about cookies?

There are several options for dealing with cookies. Some don’t require much effort, while some will require a bit more work.

One option is to opt out of some marketing cookies. There are some websites that will put a cookie on your computer or phone that essentially says, “Don’t track this person.” Many people still don’t like the idea of letting random cookies hang out on their devices, so this might not be the best option if that bothers you.

Another option is to use a private window in your browser. You can then accept any cookies that you need to, and when you close your private windows, the cookies will be deleted. This is a decent option for one-off visits to sites that you don’t want to track you.

Our favorite option is to use Firefox Containers. If you have the Firefox browser, you can install the Containers extension and this will let you create containers that keep cookies separate. If you log into a website in one container, and then go to that site in a different container, they don’t know who you are in the second container, so you aren’t even logged in. This way you can visit Amazon, Facebook, and even Google and not have them track you everywhere else you go.

Yet another great thing to do is to clear cookies periodically. One of the settings in Firefox lets you clear cookies every time you close your browser. For some this might be too much to have to log into every service every time you open your browser. But it can be a very good option if you don’t mind the little bit of extra work.

Another thing to do is to search with DuckDuckGo, a search engine that does not use cookies. While DuckDuckGo won’t track you, there is no guarantee that the site you visit won’t. The page you go to will likely have third party cookies, so this does have some limitation.

One last good practice is to install ad-blocking and anti-tracking browser extensions. However, some websites get mad and don’t like this. AdGuard AdBlocker works well. uBlock Origin is another option, but depending on how strict you are with not allowing certain scripts to run on sites, the websites might not work, so it should be used with that understanding.

There are cookies everywhere on the internet: some are very convenient and others are very invasive. Understanding what they are and what you can do can help you surf the internet more confidently and privately.

Surfs up!

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