By John Carter

Hi Net Neighbors! Welcome to another installment of Tech Tuesday, where we do deep dives into the technology we have all around us. Today we are going to look at something that, if you use the internet, you’ve heard mentioned before; Cookies

Mmm, Cookies. Who doesn’t love an ooey, gooey chocolate chip cookie?

Wait, no, not those Cookies, sorry. Today we are going to talk about Cookies in your computer. If you have been anywhere on the internet these days, you have probably encountered something mentioning Cookies and asking your permission to use them. So, let’s do a deep dive into them.

What is a Cookie?

At its most simple, a Cookie is a tiny piece of information placed on your computer by someone else’s computer. Now let’s talk about that, because it sounds scary.

Let’s take a step away from the digital world and back into the real one. Imagine for a moment you have a business card. It has your name, address, phone number, and anything else you would like people to know about you. Easy enough, eh? Even if you have never had one yourself, you’ve seen them on tv and in the movies. Now the purpose of a business card is, when you meet someone or visit a place, you can leave a reminder of who you are, that way people can find you again. Sometimes those people and places that have your card will add additional information to make it easier for them to remember you. This is very similar to how Cookies work.

When you visit a website, it will often ask you if they can place a Cookie on your computer. This is their ‘business card’ so, the next time you visit, they can remember who you are. Depending on the site, this Cookie will take different forms. Most are just a long string of numbers and letters that correspond to your account on their systems.

The kinds of things using Cookies though are integral to the internet. Ever go shopping online and the ‘Shopping Cart’ remembers what you put in it? That information is being stored on your machine via a Cookie. Ever go to your email and you don’t have to sign in? Well the login authentication was done via a Cookie. Ever go back to YouTube and they remember where you left off in a video? That was a Cookie too.

To then answer the question, what is a cookie? One must conclude Cookies are one of the most essential parts of the modern internet.

Cookies are okay then?

This depends. Cookies are used both to track your purchases and reduce the number of times you must sign-in to a site. There was a key word there though, track. Along with being helpful, Cookies are recording what you are doing on your computer so someone else can have access to that information. Most of the time this access is benign but not always. If you are someone who objects to the way modern companies track you and then use the data they gather to advertise to you, then Cookies are not as friendly as they might have been intended.

Okay, so why do people tell me to delete them?

Great question, glad you asked. Although not completely, this notion of deleting Cookies and clearing the cache stems from earlier generations of computers. Being a simple text file, Cookies do not occupy a huge amount of space on your computer. However, what is a small amount of real estate now was a much larger amount of space in the comparatively smaller hard drives and processors of twenty years ago. Back then, when your computer ran slow it made absolute sense to jettison every little bit of stuff clogging up storage and Cookies were an easy place to cut some metaphorical calories. These days, with as powerful and robust as modern computers are it is less necessary to remove them. Additionally, your computer’s browser automatically deletes Cookies that are too old.

So, what should I do about Cookies?

Largely you can ignore them. These days Cookies manage themselves. There are options in your browser you can activate to minimize the use of Cookies on your computer. However, if you choose to use the internet without ever using a Cookie your experience will be less robust than intended.

Then why do all these sites tell me they are using Cookies?

You can thank the European Union for these notifications. The EU Cookies Directive states that any site owned by EU citizens or directed to EU citizens must inform users of the Cookies they use and gain consent for operation. It can be annoying to be sure, but at least you are being informed.

Now what?

Have fun on the internet knowing why the browser keeps mentions Cookies. There are things other than Cookies to be worried about these days, Viruses and Malware. We’ll get to those next time.

Until then, have fun, find adventure, and stay safe.

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