Many a times, while browsing through websites, we tend to see that our preferences are automatically logged in. Convenient right? But, should we be concerned about it?

Well, first, let’s understand as to what exactly this is about.  

Websites generally place small text files consisting of unique IDs on computers to keep track of users’ behavior. These are known as cookies. It should be mentioned that this has got nothing to do with the ones people can binge on!
Image credit: Pratyush Thaker

What do cookies consist of?

These cookies are initiated by the websites you visit, and are stored on computers. They contain information about browsing habits and are usually around 4KB (Kilobyte) in size.

For instance, if you check out a multilingual website for the first time and you choose to read it in English, the browsing decision gets saved as a cookie in the web browser. So when you visit the website next time around, the same cookie will be accessed to invariably load the content in English - thereby saving you the trouble of going through the exercise all over again.

Likewise, several other browsing behaviors such as amount of time spent on a website, links clicked on while using the website, accounts logged into, items placed in the shopping cart are stored in such types of cookies.

Ensuring safety and privacy

Though cookies seem to be quite useful, it is important to note that they are a part of the advertising ecosystem. So, you can always decide not to enable them. When you see a pop up on the website with a prompt to click on ‘I agree’, do not go for it. Instead, you can single out on managing the cookies and adjust the privacy settings.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) passed by the European Union in 2016, made it mandatory for companies to get explicit consent to collect data.

As long as the cookies are first-party cookies that are directly generated on the website, you are safe. But if they are third party ones that are created on a different website, than the one you are browsing, it could prove to be dangerous. This is so because unauthorised access is provided to cookies (commonly known as cookie hijacking). In such situations, the best option is to clear the browser of all cookies.

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Some resources and links to help you learn more about cookies:

How to Control and Delete Cookies on Your Browser
Most of the time, cookies are a good thing, but they can also track you. Take control of a tiny bit of your online privacy by blocking, deleting, and allowing only select cookies.
BBC - WebWise - What are cookies?