Have you been confronted with a request to accept cookies before you can read or interact with a website like shown in the image below?
This is known as the cookie wall and its function is to restrict access unless the permission to store cookies is granted. How do you respond to a cookie wall? Do you “accept all cookies” in a hurry without giving it a second thought? Or do you get alarmed at the thought of suspicious packages they might install in your device and simply close the site? Both of these extreme measures aren’t helpful. In this blog, we shall discuss what cookies are and how to deal with them.
What are cookies?
Cookies are blocks of data created by a web server and placed in the user’s device by the web browser. They are created while the user is web browsing. Some cookies are useful and even essential for proper functioning of a website. Here are some examples of the important uses of cookies:
- Websites where you have configured yourself to remain logged in, such as Facebook, use authentication cookies to save the login details.
However, cookies can also be used for malicious purposes. The degree of severity can range from tracking user data to target personalized ads, to stealing vital private information of the user.
There are many types of cookies based on their functions but a general user needs to know about two important categories: First-party and Third-party cookies. First party cookies are created by the website you are using. They are generally safe, as long as the website you are using is a reliable one. Third party cookies are created by websites other than the one the user is browsing. They allow third-parties to track data such as browsing history of the user.
Inspecting the cookie requests
Let’s inspect a few cookie walls and see what choices we have to reject cookies.
The image above shows the cookie preferences offered by statista.com. I have the choice to reject cookies other than the necessary cookies category, which are mandatory, Because the website considers them as vital for proper functioning of the site, I must allow them all if I want to use the website’s services. For this website, the other cookies were inactive by default. This isn’t always the case though.
The above screenshot shows the default cookie preference for bbc.com. In this case the functional and performance cookies are on but can be made inactive by the user, The strictly necessary cookies at the top must be allowed to remain active or the website won’t function properly.
It’s always better to choose to manage the cookies instead of accepting all cookies; especially if you are visiting an unfamiliar website. Malicious cookies can be disguised as necessary cookies and saved in the device of unsuspecting users. Thus one needs to accept cookies with a grain of salt.
How to manage cookies on your device?
One good practice to follow is to delete cookies of the website you have recently visited. To do so, go to your browser history and click on the option of clearing browsing data. Choose the advanced tab and you’ll see options shown below.
Choose the time range and delete the cookies so that your system remains free of any unwanted cookies you might have gathered while browsing. This won’t log you out of the websites you use frequently because those authentication cookies were created long ago and this action will delete cookies within an hour or a day, depending on the option you choose.
You can also configure your browser to block third-party cookies, and to delete the recently added cookies. The instructions provided here are for google chrome browser but it’s similar with other browsers too.
Go to settings.
Then choose privacy and security settings from the left hand side menu. From the list of options, click on cookies and other site data, as shown in the image above.
More options appear as shown above. Select the block third-party cookies options. This might disable some features such as downloading materials from google drive. You’ll have to enable the cookies again if you face such problems. If you want to have a look at the cookies stored by various sites in your device, select the option at the bottom of the list.
Knowing the reality of things always helps us make better decisions. This blog has highlighted one concern about the digital world. To learn about more things to keep an eye on, refer to our blog on the dangers of communication and information sharing.