Cookies and their importance for web browsers

If you mention cookies, most people expect to see a cookie. When it comes to websites though, cookies don’t show up on the dessert menu or on the google search engine. In fact, they are not even physical objects. Yet they are a big part of how you can navigate the Internet, and they can cause problems if you don’t know how to manage them. In the digital world, web cookies are not delicious cookies, but represent data that is stored in the web browser.

What are web cookies?

The word cookie first appeared in 1979 in connection with the C programming language. There, the Magic Cookie was used for a pointer where the stored data can be clearly assigned and is comparable to a locker key. The term cookie is found in various programming contexts. However, the term is most often used in web development.

Web cookies for the web browser are short texts that are either sent from the server to the user’s browser or a small script that is generated when a web page is executed. They are mainly used when a website intends to interact with the user. With the help of a cookie, a user can be identified after several accesses by identifying his personal data. Each visit to a page is comparable to small cookie crumbs that a user leaves behind. These crumbs are collected bit by bit until they become a large cookie that can be assigned to that user exactly based on his or her browsing behavior on the site. Web cookies can also be used to temporarily store session data. In online stores in particular, they are used for this purpose, so that a shopping cart remains stored for a longer period. A cookie is a file that is deposited by your web browser on your computer when you are surfing on Internet Explorer. This file is composed of text only: it is a text file. It is therefore completely harmless. This file is generated by the server of the site you are visiting and it is sent to your cookie browser. It is the web browser that will save the file on your hard disk, because the server does not have direct access to your computer.

What is the purpose of a cookie?

We have just seen that web cookies are used by shopping sites to retrieve shopping carts, but they are used in many other ways such as

– the proposal of login and password

You all use websites where you have to identify yourself with a login and a password, in order to register your personal data. You are sometimes asked to register this information. When you answer yes, there are 2 possibilities: either your web browser retains the password, or a cookie is created with the password.

– The storage of the display parameters of a website,

If you have already visited a website, when you return, the pages are proposed according to what you had seen. If you customize a website you are used to visiting, the different settings will be stored in a cookie. For example, the theme, the list or columns display or the sorting by price. And when you come back, you will find the display as you have set it up. And of course, if you visit a French website, the cookie can store the language displayed.

– the different entries made on a site,

For example, searches on search engines. The web cookies will be able to contain your centers of interest. The proposed advertisements will be targeted.

– Analysis of page views,

It is interesting for a website editor to know what is the audience of his website, as well as the behavior of the users. It is therefore necessary to collect as much information as possible on the behavior of users on a site: page views, time spent on the page, has the user already seen this page, etc. If users have spent a lot of time on a page, this will allow us to know, for example, that the page has been read in its entirety and that the subject matter is relevant to them.

– different information about your private life on social networks,

If you see a page you like and want to share it via Twitter. Just click on the link. Your Twitter credentials will be read from a cookie to allow you to quickly send your Twit. Same for Facebook like and all other social networks.

– Recovering different parameters about you or even your private life

Web cookies will store information about you on websites. Still, the protection of your data is quite possible.

How do web cookies work?

There are essentially two ways to transfer, set and process web cookies. In the first case, the cookie is transferred via the header of an HTTP request. When a page is called, a cookie is transferred from the server and then placed on the user’s computer. The second variant is a local cookie, which is generated by calling a script on a page. Site cookies have the advantage that they can be read and processed. This also includes their handling. Site cookies can also collect information about user behavior when no information is transmitted by the server. The next time the server is contacted, the information from the local cookie is transferred to the server. In principle, any information can be stored in a cookie as text. However, a cookie should never exceed four kilobytes. Otherwise, it may no longer be compatible with the browser. Web cookies are managed exclusively on the client side and can be stored in the browser or automatically deleted from the server after a certain period of time. This means that once the data has been transferred to the server, the cookie can disappear from the browser.

Why do you need cookies?

In practice, however, web cookies are rarely deleted from the browser. If a user wants to get rid of a cookie, they usually have to delete it manually. However, the cookie is activated again the next time a page is called up. A cookie essentially has a name, a certain value, an expiration date, a path, a domain and information about the type of connection. This creates the basic structure for collecting data from the user. In principle, there is hardly any limit to the amount of data that can be collected. Name, email address, phone number, credit card information and much more can be stored in a cookie. All of the user’s behavior on a page, from the length of the visit to the links they clicked on, can be stored. These web cookies offer many advantages to website operators. Not only can they collect a lot of valuable information, for example for targeted advertising to your customers, but they can also relieve the load on your own servers. Intermediate storage of cookies means that there is no need to be in constant contact with the server, which reduces the workload. If an action requiring communication with the server is subsequently taken, the cookie is transferred. Cookies also have advantages for the user, as they avoid the need to re-enter data. Once they have been stored, they can be assigned to a user in the future and called up as required. What is legally permitted in the use of web cookies and what is not.

The disadvantages of web cookies

Web cookies have always been the subject of many debates in recent years, especially with regard to data protection, privacy or cnil. They also make it possible to track users. In concrete cases, a specific user makes concrete suggestions based on his or her search behavior, for example, that match his or her profile. This has the disadvantage that the web results are no longer widely distributed and the user is repeatedly presented with similar or identical results. Online stores have been using these browser tracking cookies for a long time in order to advertise specific products that they have called up in previous sessions and visited over a longer period of time. The use of web cookies is particularly problematic on public computers, as this can also be misused by subsequent users.

For security reasons, session cookies exist to disable cookies, which may mean that a page does not work at all or only to a limited extent, or that they are deleted. Although web cookies have been around for a very long time, the first legal regulation was only introduced in 2009. If websites generally use cookies, the user must be informed about them and must also give his explicit consent to their use. Since the entry into force of the new basic regulation on data protection and privacy: DSVGO, there is also a separate section for cookies. The disadvantage, however, is that this section has been rather neglected and still leaves many grey areas open. Basically, everything stays the same. When browsing google and web browsers, users have to accept the use of cookies, except for an additional privacy policy. By collecting data in whatever form this occurs the DSVGO automatically takes effect and, therefore, based on the regulation, the user must also be informed of what happens to his information. However, cookies themselves have not yet been precisely regulated and are at most dealt with by the individual countries themselves, such as in Germany through the Tele-Media Act.

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