Unravel ‘What is a cookie’ with our comprehensive guide. Understand their purpose, how they work in web browsing, and strategies for online safety.

internet cookies definition

Definition of Internet Cookies

In the context of the Internet, when we refer to “cookies”, we’re not talking about the sweet treats we enjoy with a glass of milk. In digital terms, “What is a cookie?” refers to a small piece of data stored on a user’s computer while browsing the internet.

Explanation of Internet Cookies

Web cookies, or HTTP cookies, are created by a website when a user visits. They are used to keep track of the user’s interactions with the website, such as login information, items in a shopping cart, or user preferences, thereby providing a more personalized browsing experience.

Evolution and Origin of Cookies

Cookies originated in 1994 from Netscape Communications for their web browser, Netscape Navigator. They were designed to enable websites to remember the state of the website or activity the user had taken in the past.

Different Types of Cookies

There are several types of cookies, each with a unique role and purpose on the web.

Description of First-party Cookies

First-party cookies are set directly by the website that the user is visiting. These cookies enable websites to remember information to enhance the user experience, such as language preferences or items placed in a shopping cart.

Explanation of Third-party Cookies

Third-party cookies are created by domains other than the one the user is visiting. They are often used for online advertising and tracking, helping advertisers deliver more relevant ads.

Understanding Session and Persistent Cookies

Session cookies are temporary, being deleted as soon as the user closes the browser. They are useful for keeping track of immediate actions, like items in a shopping cart. On the other hand, persistent cookies stay stored on a user’s device until they are deleted or reach an expiration date. They are useful for remembering long-term user information, such as login details.

Overview of Secure and HTTPOnly Cookies

Secure cookies are only transmitted over an encrypted connection, which helps prevent data interception by potential attackers. HTTPOnly cookies, on the other hand, cannot be accessed through client-side scripts, reducing the risk of cross-site scripting attacks.

Unpacking Zombie and Super Cookies

Zombie cookies are a type of persistent cookies that automatically regenerate after being deleted, making them difficult to remove. Super cookies, a more potent variant, can store cookie data in several places, such as Flash local shared objects, making them even harder to get rid of.

How Cookies Work

Cookies play a critical role in the functionality of the internet.

how cookies work

Role of Cookies in Internet Communication

In internet communication, cookies enable the retention of personal settings, the automatic completion of login information, and the collection of statistical data about the user, among other things. They ensure a comfortable and personalized experience for users while surfing the web.

Process of Storing and Retrieving Information

When a user visits a site, the site sends a cookie to the user’s browser. The browser then stores this cookie as a text file in the browser’s folder on the user’s device. When the user revisits the site, the browser retrieves this file and sends it to the website’s server.

Use Cases of Internet Cookies

The use cases of cookies are vast, but some of the most prevalent include:

Personalization and User Preferences

Cookies store user preferences and information, enabling a website to tailor its operation to your needs, likes, and dislikes by gathering and remembering information about your preferences.

Session Management

For websites that have login functionality, cookies allow users to stay logged in even when they navigate to different pages. They can also store shopping cart information, game scores, or any other data that needs to persist from page to page.

Tracking and Analytics

By tracking a user’s actions and movements, cookies help websites understand their audience and enhance their services accordingly. They’re instrumental in analytics, providing insights about the user’s behavior, such as the time spent on the website and the pages visited.

Advertising and Behavioral Targeting

Cookies are widely used in online advertising. By tracking a user’s online activity, advertisers are able to understand a user’s preferences and behavior, and consequently deliver more relevant ads.

The Controversy Around Cookies

While cookies have many benefits, they also have their fair share of controversies, particularly related to privacy and security.

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Privacy and Security Concerns

While cookies provide several benefits, they also raise privacy and security concerns. The core issue here lies in the nature of “What is a cookie?” By design, cookies collect information about user behavior, often without explicit consent. Although this data is typically used to enhance user experience, it can also be misused, raising valid concerns about user privacy.

Cookie Regulations and Laws

In light of privacy concerns, several regulations and laws have been implemented worldwide. Notably, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union requires websites to obtain explicit consent from users before installing cookies. Similarly, in the United States, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) provides consumers with the right to opt out of the sale of their personal information, which includes data collected through cookies.

Third-Party Tracking Issues

Third-party cookies are often used for tracking and advertising purposes, collecting data on user behavior across multiple websites. This can create a detailed profile of a user’s online activity, raising further privacy concerns. As a result, many web browsers and companies have started to phase out third-party cookies, further emphasizing the privacy-first approach in digital spaces.

Cookie Management

Understanding and managing cookies is vital to maintaining one’s digital privacy.

How to Enable, Disable, and Manage Cookies in Different Browsers

Every browser provides options to enable, disable, and manage cookies. This usually involves navigating to the settings or preferences section of the browser and locating the privacy settings. Here, users can choose how they want their browser to handle cookies. Instructions for managing cookies can typically be found within the browser’s help resources.

Explanation of Cookie Notices on Websites

You’ve likely noticed the “This website uses cookies” message on many websites. These cookie notices are the website’s way of informing you that they collect data through cookies, as mandated by regulations like the GDPR.

Understanding Cookie Consent

Cookie consent is the user’s approval for a website to store and retrieve information from their device via cookies. The GDPR mandates that websites must obtain explicit consent from users before setting up non-essential cookies.

Emerging Trends and The Future of Cookies

As we continue to explore “What is a cookie,” we must also consider its future.

Alternatives to Cookies for Tracking and Personalization

With the shift towards privacy, alternatives to cookies are emerging. Techniques like device fingerprinting, local storage, and probabilistic matching are being explored. These methods aim to balance personalization and privacy, providing users with a tailored experience while respecting their digital rights.

Impact of Phasing out Third-party Cookies

The decision to phase out third-party cookies by major browsers has significant implications for the digital advertising industry. As these changes take place, businesses will need to find new ways to reach their audiences while adhering to privacy standards. As for users, this shift presents an opportunity for increased control over their personal data and a potentially more privacy-oriented internet experience.

advantages and disadvantages of cookies

Advantages of Internet Cookies

Personalized User Experience

Cookies can improve the user experience by remembering and applying user settings and preferences. For example, a website might remember your preferred language or keep items in your shopping cart between visits.


Cookies allow websites to remember login information, which saves users the time and effort of entering this information each time they visit the site.

Website Optimization

By tracking user behavior and site usage, cookies provide valuable data that can help website owners optimize their site, improving its functionality and performance.

Disadvantages of Internet Cookies

Privacy Concerns

One major drawback of cookies is the potential for privacy invasion. Cookies can track user behavior, which some users might view as an infringement of their privacy.

Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies, in particular, can track user behavior across multiple websites, potentially building a comprehensive profile of user habits and preferences. This can lead to invasive targeted advertising and other privacy concerns.

Security Risks

Cookies can present security risks if they are manipulated by malicious parties. For example, in a type of attack known as “cookie hijacking”, hackers can gain access to session cookies and impersonate users, gaining unauthorized access to their accounts.

Comparison Table

  Advantages Disadvantages
Cookies 1. Personalized user experience 2. Convenience 3. Website optimization 1. Privacy concerns 2. Third-party cookies 3. Security risks


  1. All About Cookies: A website that provides detailed information about cookies, including how they work and how to manage them. It also includes a list of frequently asked questions about cookies, as well as links to additional resources. 
  2. What is a Cookie? How it works and ways to stay safe – Kaspersky: This blog provides an overview of what cookies are and how they work.
  3. What are cookies? | Cookies definition | Cloudflare: The article provides an overview of what cookies are and how they work, as well as discusses the different types of cookies and their purposes. 
  4. The Different Types of Internet Cookies Explained: The article provides an overview of what cookies are and then delves into various types of cookies, including first-party cookies, third-party cookies, session cookies, persistent cookies, advertising cookies, and more. 
  5. What are Advertising Cookies and How are they used?: The post provides an explanation of advertising cookies, how they work, and the information they collect. It also discusses the benefits and drawbacks of advertising cookies and how they are used in online advertising. 

Senior Growth Marketing Manager