Cutting the Cookies

Google recently announced that it was planning to “kill off” third-party cookies within the Chrome browser, however, the multinational tech company has had to push these plans out. If you, like most of us, are more familiar with the edible kind of cookie versus the computer kind, then this may not seem like anything significant. Computer cookies, otherwise known as HTTP cookies, web cookies, browser cookies or Internet cookies form an integral part of the internet as we know it, but also has implications in terms of our privacy online. There are different kinds of cookies that for the most part aren’t all that different to one another, but can be used in slightly different ways. “Magic cookies”, while sounding like hallucinogenic edibles taken at a trance festival, are actually in fact the ‘original cookie’ and refers to packets of data that are distributed throughout the internet without “any changes being made” to them.

HTTP cookies (Internet cookies) on the other hand, are largely derivative of “magic cookies’ and enable the web browsers that we use so heavily on a daily basis to essentially ‘monitor our movements’ by “tracking, personalizing and saving information about each user’s session.” The question can be asked as to why we need cookies and how are they used? According to Kaspersky, “cookies are created to identify you when you visit a new website. The web server — which stores the website’s data — sends a short stream of identifying info to your web browser. If a user returns to that site in the future, the web browser returns that data to the web server in the form of a cookie. This is when your browser will send it back to the server to recall data from your previous sessions.” In essence, cookies are used to make our lives easier by eliminating the necessity of having to login to a particular site every time, or if you unexpectedly exit a page, cookies allow you to pick up where you left off.

The problem is, not all cookies are used from a streamlining of processes perspective. While cookies themselves aren’t dangerous, they do contain information that can leave the user vulnerable to potential cyber-attacks or threats.  So, which cookies are more problematic than others? First-party cookies are generally the safer variety as they are created directly by the website you are using and therefore pose less of a threat if the site is a good one. Third-party cookies on the other hand pose more of a threat as they are generated by sites outside of the one that you are visiting and can be linked to the likes of ads and other sources. For this reason, amongst many others, Google has set out a timeline to phase out third-party cookies on its Chrome browser. The idea behind the initiative is to promote the use of more “privacy conscious technologies” while giving advertisers time to formulate new strategies and new technologies outside of cookies. Understandably this initiative has brought about mixed reviews depending on what side of the spectrum you sit – as either and advertiser, web-vendor, or site-user – either way, cutting the cookies isn’t going to happen overnight.