What exactly are Internet cookies, and are they necessary?

If you’ve heard of Internet “cookies”, you’re probably a little concerned (and disappointed that they have nothing to do with the chocolate chip ones you might be enjoying as you read this).

Is someone spying on you?

Not quite. Cookies are small text files that web browsers save; they contain data (such as a user ID) to give sites information about your browsing activity. Here is the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s definition:

“Cookies are non executable computer programs that cannot carry viruses and install malware. …Under CASL (Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation), a person is considered to consent to the installation of a cookie if the person’s conduct is such that it is reasonable to believe that they consent.”

It isn’t exactly spying and in some cases it’s useful. For example, when you fill out a checkout form when shopping online and the address auto-fills, that’s because a cookie did it’s job. Google uses cookies to prevent unauthorized users from hacking into your account and when it comes to advertising, cookies can be used to show you ads for products related to your interests across different websites. Ever wonder why Facebook shows you ads for new cars after you’ve been researching cars online?

Wait – I’m not comfortable sharing my personal information!

If you want to disable cookies, you can do so through your web browser, but don’t forget that some sites won’t work without cookies. If you use Google Chrome, you can change cookie settings under Content Settings and on Mozilla Firefox these settings are in Preferences: Privacy. If all of that sounds too complicated and you’d rather not fuss with the settings yourself, just give us a call and we’d be happy to discuss a manageable security approach tailored just for you. If you’d like to tackle it yourself, you can also clean cookies off your web browser by clearing your browser data: go to the history settings of your browser to run this. You can also open your browser in “incognito mode”; for this option, right click your browser icon.

I allow cookies, and while you may think I’m crazy for doing that, I prefer having personalized content on websites. Cookies can’t read your hard drive or give your computer a virus. I make a regular practice of cleaning up my own browser history and am happy to set up a site visit to help you to manage, disable or clean up cookies on your systems. 

Questions about cookies? Get in touch – we’re always here to help!