A cookie is a text file stored in a user’s web browser on any device they use to access a website that holds information regarding the user’s visit, such as preferences. When the user returns, the browser provides the cookie with the stored information to the site.
Cookies are used for adjusting a website’s content to fit a user’s preferences and optimize the website. They store useful information that improve the user’s experience of a website. They are most commonly used for:
Storing login information so that a user does not need to re-login on every visit. Recognizing the type of device a user is browsing with and any preferences applied to optimize the website specifically for the device. Creating statistics that help website owners to understand how their users interact with their website, which allows them to improve their structure and content.
There are two types of cookies: persistent cookies and session cookies. Persistent cookies remain on your hard drive for a period of time specified in the cookie’s file parameters or until removed manually. When you return to a website and it requires you to login again despite previously storing your login information, it is usually because the persistent cookie expired; this helps to increase security while maintaining accessibility.
Session cookies, on the other hand, are used temporarily and expire once the website or browser is closed. They are used to track user activity on a website during a single visit. When a website requires that you verify your age or location once every visit before allowing you to view content and without requiring additional personal details, that is a session cookie at work.
If there is a need for the collection of personal information, such as for creating accounts, then cookies may store personal information. However, it is required by data protection law that users are informed of the collection of personal data. This data will also be encrypted to render it inaccessible for unauthorized users.
By default, browsers are configured to accept cookies. However, these settings may be changed to block cookies entirely, or to inform the user each time they are used. Detailed information about cookies and the options associated with them are available in each browsers’ settings.