It is nearly impossible to browse the internet and not be asked to “accept cookies” on a webpage. Surely there is no need to explain that we are not talking about chocolate-chip or oatmeal, but browser cookies.
Coming in different shapes and colors, a banner will usually pop up at the bottom of a page, asking you to accept the company’s cookies. Most of us will blissfully click OK without giving any real thought to it.
Under normal circumstances, there shouldn’t be a problem in accepting cookies. You click OK and the banner disappears. All seems normal, right? Well, there have been instances where that hasn’t been the case.
What are cookies?
Most websites where you can log in, search for something or have a profile will have some cookies. In short, browser or HTTP cookies are small text files that store all kinds of information.
This can range from usernames and passwords to search preferences or any other identifiable information. The server to which the webpage is connected creates the cookies, and the identifiers are unique to you and your machine.
The cookie text file is stored on your computer (hence the accepting part) and is exchanged with the server. Once connected, the server retrieves your cookie and reads all the information. That way, it can verify that it is you so that it can personalize your experience.
It’s a simple, effective way for browsers to track and personalize information based on what you do online. It makes your browsing experience better but also stores a lot of data. So, do you have to accept them? The short answer: no, you don’t.
What happens if you don’t accept?
For a rudimentary explanation, cookies allow you to access Facebook or Twitter without having to log in every time you visit manually. It has your username and password saved, so there is no need to input those again.
If you don’t accept cookies, you will need to fill in your login details every time. Even websites where you don’t have a profile will ask to store cookies. This will be for localization, search history or personal preferences.
There is no harm in not accepting, except that you might get a diminished browsing experience.
When shouldn’t you accept?
Just as in a traditional bakery, not all cookies are made equal. Overall, they are not a bad thing, but there are instances where you should never accept them. Let’s look at a few examples.
- Dodgy websites
Especially when you are on public Wi-Fi or use an unfamiliar connection, you shouldn’t accept cookies. Shady sites can store malicious cookies onto your machine, which could infect your computer with malware. Scam websites can also install zombie cookies, which will permanently sit on your computer even after being deleted.
- Third-party cookies
If you have ever wondered why you are getting a lot of spam, these could be to blame. You should never accept cookies that mention third parties, as acknowledging these will give consent to having your data sold to information brokers. In contrast, first-party cookies are created directly by the website you are visiting.
- Private information
Steer clear of accepting cookies on websites when dealing with your private information like banking details, medical services or confidential content. Unless you dig into the documentation, there is no way of telling what data is stored or retrieved.