Cookies are very small files which contain a limited amount of very specific information, which is requested by whoever is using that information – like the advertising company or the shop whose website you’re on. The cookies get created when you go onto a website and are stored on your browser. Every time you go back to that website the browser recognises that and retrieves the cookie and sends it to the website’s server or to the ad-server.
For example, you could visit a watch website and have a cookie downloaded onto your PC and then as you go around that website you look at only the very expensive ladies watches. A few weeks later you go back to that website and the picture on the homepage has been tailored and is all about high-end ladies watches. This is because the cookie uses the information it gathered about you last time you were there. The cookie only gathers the information it needs for the purpose it needs, nothing more. It usually assigns you a unique ID, it doesn’t know your name or who you are just that anonymous number xxx likes high-end watches.
In display advertising, a cookie may be used to re-target consumers. A third party cookie could be put onto a website so that when you visit the website and then leave and go to the third party, you will be re-targeted with the original website’s banner. So let’s say you visit laterooms.com, a cookie gets dropped on your PC from AOL.com and then you visit AOL.com – and AOL.com knows from your cookie that you’ve been to laterooms.com and will show you their banner. It’s not quite as simple as that, as there are often middle parties involved but that’s a basic overview.
Cookies are used all the time to tailor the internet to you. It’s often said that people fear what they don’t understand and that is certainly true of cookies. I’ve spoken to people who think it’s illegal to drop cookies and people think the internet would be a better place without them, but just take a minute to think about it…
Cookies are used all of the time from the moment you open your browser, to tailor your search results to make sure they are as relevant as they can possibly be, to offer you recommendations based on what you’ve previously purchased or watched online, to remember your shopping basket as you shop, to show you products or services you may actually be interested in, to help authenticate the log in details of a user in a secure area of a website, to remember passwords so you don’t have to, to remember where you were in a session or to remember your preferences.
Picture a web world without cookies… It’s just not for me! I don’t think I could cope in this day and age without Amazon suggesting new books or Netflix offering me new movies based on what I’ve watched to date. I don’t want to see banner adverts about telling me I need to lose weight, when I could see adverts telling me about the latest gadgets. Cookies aren’t going anywhere but awareness of them is increasing and it’s raising a lot of questions and concerns and I hope this has helped you to shed some cookie-phobia.