Cookies are short texts that are exchanged between the server and the browser. Websites thus store relevant information in the Internet browser of the person doing the research, which can then be retrieved at a later time.

Instead of delicious cookies, in the online environment we are dealing with data records in the case of cookies. Like the crumbs of the popular cookie, however, these are also very small. Cookies are placed in the user’s browser so that the web server can link requests with each other and assign the respective user or device – be it a computer, a tablet or a smartphone.

When a website is called up, the cookies therefore land in the user’s browser. The operator of the respective website stores information locally by sorting a file in .txt format in a browser directory. This text file is composed of a name and the text value, a randomly generated number. It gives the user an identity – with the aim of recognizing him with it. The whole thing works as follows: If a user accesses a previously accessed page again, the browser selects the cookies that are noted with the same domain as the web server. Then the cookie data – regardless of the file type – is sent back to the original web server. This transmission takes place via http or a scripting language such as Java. On the next visit, the user can be identified to the website. At that moment, the server recognizes whether there is a corresponding cookie and sees what information is recorded in it.

If cookies are used properly, they make surfing the Internet convenient. Viruses or Trojans, on the other hand, called malware – malicious software – are programs that want to infect hardware or software by performing harmful functions. That is why it is essential to protect computer systems.

Storing and managing – the purpose of cookies

The purpose of a cookie is to provide information about a current request intended by the Internet user and to collect important information from certain inputs or the duration of a visit. Or, to put it another way: a cookie is assigned to a specific transaction – and thus helps to identify or locate data. The goal: Sites want to be able to “remember” the visits of certain users or their search habits. The browser sends the information back to where it came from. It is important to note that cookies only apply to one domain.

Whether it’s settings on websites such as login data, the shopping cart in an online store, or more comprehensive user profiles for companies: cookies make the user a bit more transparent, but also make searching the Internet easier and lead to operators being able to optimize their offerings in the interests of users. Companies and store operators naturally perfect this with a view to personalization or product search. For site visitors, it is often not at all apparent what information is actually stored and what exactly happens to their data. Nor do they know how long the cookies remain on the computer. In any case, a combination of login data and cookies can lead to exact customer profiles being created and stored in corresponding databases. In addition, cookies help protect search engines from fraud and abuse.

Good cookies or bad cookies?

When it comes to cookies, it all depends on how they are handled. The intention behind cookies is not bad per se: they make surfing the net easier by storing data so that the user does not have to enter it again and again. This saves constant logging in – even during a session.

Browsers can block certain cookies – including those that come from third parties and want to use data for advertising purposes, for example. In addition, users can set their own browsers to automatically delete cookies after each session. Otherwise, they are usually stored for a long time and document the user behavior from A to Z. If all users knew what the cookies were used for, surely not many would agree to their use in good conscience.

Session cookies

With session cookies, users play it safe because they are only active for one session in the browser – or until the moment the user shuts down his computer. With persistent cookies, which are much more common, users can expect to stay for months or even years. The website operator sets the expiration date – but the user can delete the cookies.

Safe surfing

Cleaning up made easy: Cleaning programs such as CCleaner help to regularly clear the browser directory of cookies. In addition, settings can be defined in the browser itself and cookies can be activated or deactivated at any time.

Caution is advised with tracking cookies: with the help of these cookies, which comprehensively store surfing behavior, companies and also hackers can gain access to personal data – for example, to the bank account. Of course, this does not only support the user, but also represents an increased risk or even a threat. Companies also like to work hand in hand in this regard, and there are corresponding advertising networks for this purpose. After all, they want to be able to track what intentions and preferences potential customers had on comparable sites – with the help of tracking cookies that can read information from other sites with the same advertising marketer. So third parties like advertising companies can also set cookies. However, in the wake of the GDPR, third-party cookie use seems to be declining and tracking cookies are basically becoming rarer Finally, cookies can no longer be used without consent.

Cookies and the GDPR

The so-called Cookie Directive, which was adopted in 2009 and regulated the handling of cookies at EU level, was replaced by the EU General Data Protection Regulation in May 2018. The new regulation applies uniformly to the countries of the EU. This is accompanied by the fact that the explicit consent of the user is now required with regard to the use of cookies. Thus, it is no longer possible for website operators to create a personal user profile without further ado. Mere information on the subject of data protection and cookies is no longer sufficient. A cookie notice text that pops up on the first visit to a page is the sought-after and practiced solution. It is placed very prominently on many pages and the user must actively confirm it with a click. At the same time, however, this notice also gives the impression that more cookies are being set. However, this is not the case. After all, the use of cookies has been common practice since the early 1990s – until then, of course, not so obviously.

One thing is certain: Cookies can be used to record the surfing behavior of users. This is because they help to identify the user, which has both positive and negative aspects.


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