Steer clear of "bad cookies" and protect your privacy with the help of some useful tips
Nearly any website you visit asks you to accept cookies, and most of us don’t even think about this choice — we just click "yes" to rid ourselves from the pain of the pop-up. But what are we really agreeing to? What is a cookie, anyway?
These small text files were first used in browsers back in 1994 and soon became ubiquitous. The problem was that the web wasn’t designed to preserve a particular state, so when you went from one website to another, the site wouldn’t know what content you had already consumed without using cookies. By sending you a cookie, a website could recognize you if you returned and present you with a better browsing experience. For example, if you abandoned your shopping cart on an e-commerce site, a cookie could save you time and not have to re-select these items when you return a few days later. Cookies also helped website operators remember your individual settings, such as language preference, your login name, and other values.
Beware of bad cookies
Over the years, cookies came to be used for other purposes, such as to ensure that you are indeed the person you claim to be and to limit ads from showing pop-ups and other settings. There are now several different kinds of cookies, as explained in this post: cookies that can be used to track you, cookies that persist for a specific time period, and cookies that are generated not by the website directly, but from third parties, such as advertisers or marketing companies.
Back in the early days of the mid-1990s, I wrote: “Why get all worked up about cookies? Well, privacy advocates feel that cookies can tell too much information about you and don't want this information broadcast all over the net. The only problem is that there is lots more information outside of your cookie available to web servers, such as your IP address and email address.” Since those early days, we have better technologies that can track your browsing activity, such as canvas fingerprinting.
In 2011, the EU decided that cookies were potentially a privacy problem and mandated that website owners obtain visitors’ permissions and place those annoying pop-up requests. The resulting law has been completely toothless: No European site owner has ever been fined for cookie violations.
If you are concerned about your privacy, here are a few ways to protect yourself and watch out for the bad kinds of cookies.