Understanding Website Cookie Notices

Are Website Cookies Bad?

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Cookies image 2Mmm, cookies. You might have noticed that most websites now have a disclaimer that pops up mentioning the use of cookies. Unfortunately, that disclaimer isn’t talking about a sweet treat, so what is it talking about?

What are cookies?

Cookies are pieces of information that browsers store about different things you do on a website. There are a number of different types of cookies. For example, there are tracking cookies, login session cookies, and marketing cookies to name a few. These different types of cookies do different things. Sites will sometimes tell you in their disclosure, or on their privacy policy page, which types of data the site might be collecting. The cookies are stored locally on your computer, but the data they store is sent back to be used by web servers to track or store other data such as preferences or language selection.

If you log into a website, the login session cookies have a little piece of information letting the site pages know that you’re logged in and then allowing you to see certain pages that should only be visible to logged in users.

Another thing you should know is that cookies are per browser. If you deny cookies on a website in Firefox, for example, and then you go to the same website in Chrome, you would need to select to allow or decline their use of cookies again.

Cookies expire at some point. Some cookies expire as soon as you leave the site, while other cookies last longer, possibly years, depending on how each site chooses to set the expiration of each cookie.

What happens when you accept cookies on a website?

When you accept cookies on a website, it means that you are allowing the website to track data about your time on their site. The data they collect isn’t necessarily personal information, if you haven’t typed anything in, but it can remember that you’ve been on the site before. Depending on which type of cookies they’re using, the data they collect is used in a variety of ways.

One way the cookie data could be used is to allow a website to show you ads for the products you looked at while you’re on a different website. For example, you’re on website A, and you look at a few dresses, then you move on to website B, and suddenly you notice an advertisement for one of the dresses that you looked at on website A. How do they do that? The answer is cookies.

Another way cookie data might be used is to remember what you left in your shopping cart between visits to the website. The browser is able to remember that you’ve done something on the site in the past. Allowing cookies can be useful because it allows the site to remember certain preferences or credentials you have.

Cookies are also used when a website collects analytical data. Services, such as Google Analytics, are able to extrapolate a user’s site usage information from the data it collects, for example, male vs. female users, age groups, etc. One site can’t read another site’s cookies; however, if a user visits two different sites that both use Google Analytics, then Google is able to use the same cookies.

Cookies image 1What happens when you deny the use of cookies on a website?

When you do not accept the use of cookies, you are saying that the site does not have your permission to track and store data about you or your site session. In most cases, it will not impact your use of the site; however, on some websites your use of the site might be hampered if you do not allow cookies.

When you deny cookies, a website won’t remember your preferences. If you have things that you liked on a website, you would need to find those items again. The website won’t be able to personalize your experience or the ads that you see. Each time you use the site, your site experience will be like you’ve never been there before; the website won’t recognize you.

Even if you decline the use of cookies on a website, the site may still use a cookie to remember not to store your other cookies. A site must have some way to know that you have requested to not to track your usage. If that cookie expires after every site visit, then each time you visit the site, it will ask you again if you will accept or decline the use of cookies. If they store the cookie, then you won’t have to answer the disclaimer during each site visit.

Why ask me about using cookies?

Many website cookie notices came into use when the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect in May of 2018. GDPR allows people to be protected against having personal data used without their permission. A cookies disclaimer is just one small part of the Protection Regulation. Denying cookies allows a website user to say “no, I don’t want you to track this information about me.”

Even though GDPR is European, it impacts nearly all websites. Unless a website is blocked from European countries, it should have a cookies disclaimer.

Another data protection act, California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), went into effect in January of 2020. CCPA empowers California residents with the right to opt out of having their data sold to third parties, the right to request disclosure of data already collected, and the right to request deletion of data collected. For a website’s cookies to comply with CCPA, a website must inform its users at or before the point of data collection about the categories of personal information that it collects and for what purposes. CCPA requires that all cookies being collected are collected only after the user agrees to them.

How do I clear cookies?

Browsers usually delete cookies after a certain period of time; however, clearing them periodically may solve some issues you experience with websites. The following sites are helpful in deleting cookies.

How to delete cookies in Chrome
How to delete cookies in Edge
How to delete cookies in Firefox

What now?

If you have more questions about cookies, or if you need help with GDPR compliance, contact Unidev. We’re happy to help.