What Are Cookies? (And Why You’re Always Asked to Agree)
What are cookies?
In an increasingly tech-dominated world, it is important to have a basic understanding of some of the techniques used to gather data. One particularly pervasive technique are cookies. A cookie? No, not the tasty treat you can pick up at a local grocery store. Rather, a technique used by websites to gather and retain information about users.
What are cookies?
Cookies are small data files which are downloaded onto a computer when a website is visited for the first time. They store information about the visit to the site so that the next time it is visited, the site knows that a user has been there before and can tailor the experience. The computer facilitates this by checking if it has stored a relevant cookie and, if it has, sends the information stored in the cookie back to the site.
Example 1: A regular user of a website (which, upon first visit gives you a tutorial of how to use the site) would not need to experience the tutorial each time they access the site. Cookies enable the site to track access and activity to tailor the experience for the user and remove the tutorial requirement.
Example 2: A regular online shopper has a favourite store to buy clothes from. In the middle of an online shopping session, their laptop runs out of battery and their browser, containing a full shopping basket, is closed. As cookies have stored what was in the basket, the shopper can pick up where they left off once their laptop charges.
What are the implications of cookies for personal privacy?
The nature of cookies is that they are data retainers. One-off data retention seems relatively harmless; however, it is the cumulative effect of data retention which have implications for personal privacy.
The data retained can be used to profile user activity and interests on the web. If you have ever looked up a specific pair of shoes online, only to have an ad for those shoes pop-up on your Facebook account, it is likely that cookies had a part to play in that targeted advertising.
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Ashlee is a legal intern working in the content team at Lawpath. She is interested in information technology law, and all things innovation. Ashlee is currently completing a Dual Degree of Law/Commerce at the University of New South Wales.