Nixon Digital

What are cookies and what do they do?

Whether you are a website owner or an internet user, you have probably encountered cookies before. But what exactly are they? Simply put, cookies are unique pieces of data with various purposes. Their primary function is to identify website users and customize their browsing experience accordingly.

What are cookies, and what is their usage?

HTTP cookies, also known as web cookies, are small pieces of information stored on your computer when you access the internet. When you visit a website, your browser sends a request, and in response, the website sends cookies that are stored on your device. These cookies allow your browser to identify you the next time you visit the same page. Cookies store preferences, language settings, personalized content, and login information, enhancing your web experience through session management, personalization, and tracking. 

 Cookies enable personalized advertising without invading personal privacy. When you visit a website with cookies, it sends identifying info to your web browser, storing small pieces of data. Sensitive information is never stored without explicit consent. You may pick up cookies from multiple sites as you browse the web. Returning to a previously visited website allows it to read the cookie and recall information about your previous activities and other web visits. 

One can encounter a wide variety of cookies while surfing the web. The following will discuss the two main categories of cookies, and some of the subcategories within them.

Differend types of cookies

Strictly necessary cookies

They are vital for a website’s proper functioning, without which the site wouldn’t work. These cookies don’t collect personal information or track browsing habits. They improve your website experience by remembering preferences and settings to make your visit efficient and user-friendly. 

Strictly necessary cookies include the following:

Functional cookies serve specific functions on a website, like remembering login details and user location. They enable personalized information and prevent the need to log in on each visit. 

Performance cookies monitor a website’s performance as users interact with it. They track frequently visited pages, user navigation paths, and links that lead to errors. These cookies do not collect identifiable user information and solely serve to enhance website functionality. 

First-party cookies are essential for providing a personalized and smooth browsing experience on the specific website you are visiting. They allow the website to gather analytics data, remember crucial settings, and perform other functions related to user experience. They do not pose significant privacy concerns as they are limited to the website domain you currently interact with and do not track your activities across different sites.

Session cookies are temporary cookies that last only during a browsing session. A session begins when a user launches a website or web app and ends when they exit the site or close the browser window. The information gathered by session cookies is stored in temporary memory and deleted once the session ends. 

Non-necessary cookies

As their name suggests they are not essential for the basic functionality of a website. If disabled, the website will still operate without any issues, and users can access its services. These cookies often serve different purposes unrelated to the website’s functionalities, like cookies set by Facebook pixel. 

Strictly non-necessary cookies include the following:

Targeting cookies track user information and online activity to provide relevant ads and generate visitor profiles and statistics for advertising insights. These cookies are typically third-party and persistent in nature. 

Third-party cookies are created by domains other than the one you’re visiting. They track your online behaviour across websites and are often used for personalized advertising and analytics. Privacy concerns due to their tracking capabilities, allowing advertisers and data brokers to monitor users across websites and create detailed profiles without explicit consent have led to restrictions on third-party cookies in some web browsers and regulations. 

Persistent cookies store information on a user’s device, including usage, settings, personalization, and login credentials. They enhance browsing by auto-filling previously provided information, reducing the need for repeated input. 

Zombie cookies are third-party cookies that persist on users’ computers, even when they opt not to install cookies or after they’ve been deleted. Like other third-party cookies, zombie cookies are used by web analytics companies to track individuals’ browsing histories and can be used by websites to block certain users. 

Benefits of cookies

They optimize session management

Cookies enable web servers to identify users and retrieve their session information from the session database. This allows users to resume their previous website experience, with the site recognizing their login information and preferences. The cookie-based session ends when the user logs off or closes the browser.  

They allow for a more personal experience

Third-party cookies enable marketers to deliver personalized content to web users by tracking interactions across various devices and touchpoints. These cookies serve targeted ads based on your preferences. E-commerce sites use cookies to track viewed items, suggest similar products, and retain items in shopping carts during the shopping process. 

Dangers of cookies

Websites and platforms can mishandle user information, possibly leaving users more vulnerable to cybercrimes. Although online cookies cannot directly infect your computer, they can be exploited to gain unauthorized access to web sessions and accounts. This is called “session hijacking” or “cookie hijacking.” 

Although most cookies are harmless, tracking cookies can compromise user privacy as they can monitor an individual’s browsing patterns and history. 

When you log in to an online platform, a temporary session cookie is generated in your browser. An attacker can intercept this cookie to execute a session hijacking attack, tricking the server into thinking their connection is the same as yours. After hijacking your session, threat actors can perform various unauthorized actions, such as making purchases, accessing personal data, stealing sensitive corporate information, or emptying your bank account. 

The future of Cookies

The future is likely to be more cookie-limited, but not entirely cookieless. As a result, now is the right time to consider incorporating cookieless targeting methods into digital strategies. Cookieless advertising utilizes algorithms, keywords, website content, and metadata to target ads based on the user’s current content consumption. This approach, enhanced by machine learning and AI, offers an effective way to present ads that align with the user’s interests and activities. 

Cookies and GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the most comprehensive data protection law to date. Although cookies are only mentioned once in its 88 pages, Recital 30 confirms that cookies used for user identification are considered personal data and fall under the GDPR’s purview. Companies can process user data with proper consent or if a legitimate interest is involved.

Enacted in 2002 and revised in 2009, the ePrivacy Directive (EPD) complements the GDPR and covers essential aspects related to the confidentiality of electronic communications and the broader tracking of internet users, sometimes even taking precedence over the GDPR.

To adhere to the GDPR and ePrivacy Directive’s cookie regulations, you need to:

1. Obtain the user’s consent before utilizing any cookies, except strictly necessary ones;
2. Clearly and precisely communicate the data tracked by each cookie and its purpose;
3. Record and store the consent received from users;
4. Ensure users can access your services even if they decline the use of certain cookies;
5. Make withdrawing consent as easy as it was to give.

In summary

In conclusion, cookies play a vital role, serving various purposes for website owners and internet users. They enable personalized browsing experiences, optimize session management, and provide targeted advertising. However, they also raise privacy concerns, particularly with tracking cookies monitoring user activities. The different types of cookies, including first-party, third-party, session, persistent, and zombie cookies, each serve specific functions, but some can be more intrusive. While most cookies are harmless, it is essential to be cautious and take necessary precautions to protect sensitive information and mitigate potential risks associated with cookies. By understanding how cookies work and being mindful of their implications, users can make more informed choices and safeguard their online experiences.

How does Nixon Digital help you comply?

Handling consent management on multiple websites can be overwhelming. It’s challenging to ensure consistent implementation and compliance across all websites and keep track of which cookies and trackers require consent. Nixon Digital offers an effective solution for cookie compliance. We take care of the entire implementation process, from start to finish and maintenance, so you don’t have to worry about it. 

Nixon Digital places a strong emphasis on transparency, integrity, and responsibility. Our aim is to help clients meet compliance requirements efficiently and contribute to broader societal goals. Our specialized platform detects third parties on your website portfolio, allowing you to easily categorize them, including unwanted pixels. Our automatic scanning tool makes it simple to scan, organize, and review third-party elements on your website portfolio in just a few steps.

Interested in an always up-to-date cookie notice, cookie statement, and privacy statement for yourself or your clients? Get in touch with us, and see what we can do for you!