Cookies have been and continue to be an essential part of how we use the internet. In essence, cookies are small files created by websites you visit that are saved on your computer. The files contain information on what websites you visit and how you interacted with those sites.  

This might make any privacy-minded person pause. Why should we allow websites to create records of what we do online? Well, the answer isn’t so straight forward. Not all cookies are created equal. Some forms of cookies are essential to what we’ve come to expect from our online experience. Others are a little more suspect.  

First-Party Cookies

In general, first-party cookies are there to make our online experience easier and more convenient. They’re used by individual websites, and store information so you don’t have to re-identity yourself every single time you use a site. They allow you to stay logged into websites as you navigate between pages and visits to those sites. They save your location so you can quickly check the weather in your area or buy movies tickets without having to re-enter your information every time you use those sites. 

In short, we rely on first-party cookies every time we visit a website. Their essential to how we use the internet and don’t necessarily present a risk to your privacy online. 

Third-Party Cookies

Third-Party Cookies, on the other hand, are a different story. Unlike first-party cookies, these cookies track your movements between websites. These types of cookies are not created by the website your visiting, but by a third-party whose code is on that site. This could come from plug-ins, or, as is more often the case, from advertising platforms. These cookies can then keep track of your movement between any website that features these third-party codes.  

Because they are not limited to your interaction with one specific website, they can be used to construct a much larger and more detailed profile of not only your online presence, but personal characteristics, spending habits, and lifestyles.  

Taking Control of Your Cookies

Because cookies are such an important part of how we interact with websites, blocking all cookies is unnecessary and will make using sites far more inconvenient. However, depending on your level of comfort there are steps you can take to have more control of what cookies websites are using. 

  • One option is to change your browser’s privacy settings to ask permission before accepting cookies for all websites. You can choose which websites save cookies depending on your level of trust and how frequently you use those sites. 
  • Most browsers also give you the option to only block third-party cookies. This will still allow individual websites to save information about how you use their sites but will stop entities from tracking your movement across the web. There are also several ad-blocking extensions you can use that will remove advertising codes from websites when you visit them, effectively blocking those third-parties from saving cookies on your computer. 

Cookie Disclosure Requirements

By now, you’ve probably seen many websites display banners either stating that they are using cookies or asking consent for their use. This is due to several laws coming out of EU that now require websites to obtain consent to use cookies. The ePrivacy Directive was implemented in 2002 and was the first of such laws to require notification of a website’s use of cookies.  

However, the newly enacted GDPR has further enhanced these requirements. Now, websites are required to not simple notify users that cookies are being used, but most give information on how those cookies will be used and gain consent from users for each of those purposes.  

While the U.S. currently does not have such laws in place, if your organization has servers in an EU nation, you may still be subject to GDPR restrictions. In any case, it is likely such regulations will be also enacted in the U.S. soon, so many organizations are choosing to display such banners preemptively.  

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