What are website cookies?
Useful little bits of data, website cookies can help websites improve security, save your viewing preferences or login information, or track how users move to, around, and from a website. Some of them stay on your device only as long as you’re on the site, some stay on for a specified period of time, and some stay until you clear them out. Some sites can work without cookies, but some require cookies to run properly. There are different types of cookies, which all serve different purposes, as we’ll see in a moment.
Why would a customer accept cookies?
If a website has a reason to log in, i.e., to order products or to access coursework, authentication cookies allow your clients to move from page to page while staying logged in. Also called security cookies, these tell the server that the customer is already logged in and it doesn’t have to ask for the PW on each new page. If you’re a consumer trying to buy or access products online, you should allow the cookies. As with anything else online, as long as you’re on a reputable site the cookies are safe.
Cookies can also allow a website to save information such as usernames, passwords, language preferences, or payment information so the customer doesn’t have to enter it every time they log in or make a purchase. Known as functionality cookies, these can also save information like what’s in your shopping cart, your video auto-play settings, or how you like to view a page.
Tracking cookies allow website owners to track analytics, which can help them better understand their client base. Where did the customer find them? If a significant number of people navigate to my site from another site, I’d like to know about that.
Advertising cookies help search engines with your preferences, i.e., whether you want targeted ads or not. They can also keep you from seeing the same ad too frequently or keep you from seeing ads you’ve previously muted.
Personalization cookies can be used to recommend content based on your browsing history or physical location. If you have location settings turned on, Google Maps may show you nearby restaurants. YouTube recommends Killing Eve and The Good Place videos every time I’m on there. Every. Time. I’m not complaining, mind you…
How do cookies work?
Website cookies are stored in your browser. So, if you browse the same site in Google, then again in Firefox, you will need to set your cookie preferences in each of them.
Why do websites ask about cookies?
Europe has laws in place regarding cookie use, so if you’re expecting Europeans to use your website, make sure you comply with those guidelines, which you can see here. And really, it’s just polite to ask before you step in someone’s yard.
And finally ... why are they called cookies?
The name stems from the similarity to fortune cookies, which have a little message inside. See? Programmers do have a sense of humor! 😀