A cookie is a small text file that your browser stores on your computer as you surf the web. Websites set cookies to receive small bits of information about your interaction with them. Cookies are plain text with no executable code, meaning they cannot install anything on your machine. They contain a string of text that serves as a label to identify users. When a website sees the string of text in a cookie, it recognises the browser as one it has seen before.

How did cookies come about?

When web development was in its nascent stages, there was no way for a server to know if two requests came from the same browser. At the time, developers inserted a token into a requested web page and got it back with the subsequent request. The token was either added in a form with a hidden field, or passed on as part of the URL’s query string. These methods involved manual operation and were error-prone. Netscape Communications employee Lou Montulli was the first to apply cookies to web communication in 1994 during an attempt to solve an issue with what was then the web’s first shopping cart. Montulli went on to patent his invention and Netscape Navigator began to support cookies right from its very first version. Today, all web browsers use cookies.

Why do companies use cookies?

 A company may use cookies for a number of reasons :

  1. To gather your demographic information : That doesn’t mean companies can get your personally identifiable information such as your name or address. A cookie gathers little bits of information about your browsing activity, such as the page you’re on and the page you surfed prior to that.
  2. To help remember your preferences on the site : Did you read the newest or oldest comment first? What’s in your shopping basket? What was the volume you set on the video player? Cookies help in remembering your preferences in an attempt to improve your experience on the site. This includes recognising you as an existing user and allowing you to sign up quickly without re-entering information to access the site.
  3. To understand your browsing behaviour : How did you respond to the new version or design of the site? What is the most-read news on the site? Cookies try to make sense of how you and others are using the site.
  4. To manage the advertisements you see on the site : One main reason why cookies have a bad rep is because of how they can control what ads you can see on the site. This usually occurs when the website uses a third-party ad serving company. Here, the cookie can record what you saw, what you clicked on, and your location when you performed these actions. Cookie owners use the information to customise how ads are served to different user segments.

How can you remove cookies?

 If cookies make you uncomfortable or you view them as a threat to internet security or privacy, you have two options :

Opt out of cookies on you browser; this option is available for every site you visit.

  • Delete cookies after each browsing session. Please visit the links below to learn how to go about the process on different web browsers :

Chrome

Firefox

Internet Explorer

Safari