“Remember This Browser?” and Other Cookie-Pushing Questions

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Will Young

Cookies are delicious, depending on your palate. Some like sugar, I’m partial to oatmeal raisin. Others may prefer chocolate chip, and advertisers like the digital ones. And while the wording must be confusing for many, many people, there is no shortage of digital cookies. The majority of modern websites rely extensively on several different types of cookie to provide their users with services. Some are completely innocent, others may be more insidious. The thing is, a cookie by any other name is still a cookie, although the end-user may not realize it.

A digital HTTP cookie (the kind this article discusses), is really nothing like it’s edible namesake. It’s a bit more like a ticket for your coat at a coat check. You can leave your coat behind for a while, then come pick it up at a later time, just as long as you have the ticket identifying you as the coat’s owner!

At the end of the day, the majority of HTTP cookies are benign, sometimes even benevolent. There are no variables in a cookie, there’s no complex code, and there’s no known way to infect a cookie with a virus before you get it. Most of the time, they primarily serve as a way to remember who you are, what was in your shopping cart, what content interests you specifically, etc.

When a website asks if you’d like to stay logged in, or if you’d like it to remember your browser, however, this is often a less-than-transparent way of asking for, and achieving your consent to put a persistent cookie in your browser. Not that it’s necessarily lying, and not that there’s anything wrong with the way it does it – that’s what cookies are for. However, they would taste a bit better disclosed, methinks.

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The dark side of cookies, which is out of the scope of this article, begins with targeted advertisements. If I go to website X, which is selling an advertisement space to website Y, it’s entirely possible for website Y to leave a cookie on my browser, even though I never went to website Y. This is how advertisers are able to track across so many sites that aren’t related to them directly.

When someone connects to a website that sells something, and puts something in a shopping cart, the website will create a cookie and send it to the browser – in this situation, even if the user accidentally closes the page, their shopping cart will still be there when they reconnect. That’s one of the good things cookies can do for you.

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One thought on ““Remember This Browser?” and Other Cookie-Pushing Questions

  1. Oh, bummer, but it is lying — “A half truth is a whole lie, if you would change your opinion — with ALL the info”. Cookies (all of them) “Improving your experience” is a lie — not for all — but for most.
    Most importantly — we should tell people how EASY it is to delete (some) cookies with a non-spying / non-data sucking browser like Fire Fox. And better still, FF has add-ons that allow looking at your data inside a cookie (usually gobbledygook) to decide to delete — or not. You certainly can decide WHO’s cookie to keep or obliterate. Could Cookie smashing become a sport?

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