When scrolling through a website, you may have noticed a little pop-up banner asking you to accept cookies. While you may ignore or accept cookies, these website tools can improve your browsing experience; you just need to be sure you can trust the website.
So, what is a cookie? To simplify, a cookie is a tiny bit of code that identifies who you are on a website. Cookies are coded to track, personalise and store information about you and what you interact with on a webpage. They are useful when you want to return to a website as it saves your login details and also shows you personalised adverts for products and content that is relevant to you.
Cookies are useful for online shopping, suggesting videos for you to watch and for automatically selecting your language preferences. They log you in to sites that you have already signed up for and improve your overall browsing experience. It may seem sketchy that websites save so much information about you but your data is usually kept private and protected.
First and third party cookies
First party cookies are like the ones outlined above, where the website directly stores relevant information. They enable website owners to collect analytics, data, remember language settings, location specific information, use automatic login details and perform other useful functions that contribute to a positive user experience.
Third party cookies are created by domains other than the one you are currently visiting, thus the name. They’re used for things like cross-site tracking, retargeting and ad serving. Cookies can be inconvenient when they know too much about you, which is why Google plans to phase out third-party cookies in 2022.
Third party cookies advertise products on Facebook and Instagram that you have searched for elsewhere on the internet, which tends to be annoying and can feel quite invasive. This obviously has massive privacy concerns and far-reaching implications if used incorrectly or if hacked by cyber criminals. There have been many examples of websites in data leak scandals.
Banning third-party cookies
Many internet browsers have already banned third party cookies and the most popular browser, Google Chrome, is joining the ban which will affect more than 75% of South Africans’ internet experience.
This development has forced websites to be more compliant with the guidelines set out by the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), where website owners must ensure that no personal information can be accessed or sold to third parties.
What to do about cookies on websites
Due to changes in privacy and the awareness of what cookies can store, websites are now giving users options as to what specific information you allow a website to collect. The choices you can select include essential information, data for personalised advertising or all cookies.
As always, the choice is yours – if you feel you need more personalised browsing experiences, cookies are for you. However, if you feel that your personal information and data might be exposed to malicious intent, then only allow essential cookies. The good news is that most websites from 2022 onwards will not be allowed to sell your information to third parties.
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