Have you ever been to a website, and a box popped up asking you to “Accept Cookies?”  You may have clicked yes, but not really understood what a cookie was. Most of us click “Accept” and keep on browsing. In this article, I’ll give a simplified explanation of cookies and their purpose. 

What Are Computer Cookies?

Cookies are tiny packets of information your browser saves and stores on your computer when you visit certain websites. If you’ve accepted cookies on a website, your computer will drop those tiny files onto your computer. 

Then, the next time you visit that website, your computer automatically checks to see if there is a stored cookie and sends the cookie information back to the website.

In short, cookies are a way to track your activity on a website. 

What’s the Purpose of Cookies?

Websites use cookies to create a better customer experience for their visitors. Using cookies, websites can tailor certain aspects of their website specifically to you. It may restore the items you’ve added to your shopping cart during the last visit, automatically sign you in, help by auto-filling forms, or remember other preferences.

In 2018, the European Union set new GDPR guidelines concerning cookies. Since then, companies have required websites to obtain visitor consent when using cookies. You may have noticed an increase in the pop-up “accept cookies?” boxes a few years ago as many companies aligned with the new policy. 

Are Cookies Evil?

Some people seem to believe cookies are some kind of virus that can infect your computer or steal information from your computer. Thankfully, that’s not true. Cookies are simple text files, not programs. Those files themselves don’t do anything at all and cannot harm your computer.

Do They Invade My Privacy?

The question then becomes how is this collected “cookie” data being used? Again, cookies were originally developed with good intentions: to serve the content that is most helpful and tailored to you based on the information collected.

However, cookies can also be used to track people for targeted advertisement, which some people see as an infringement of privacy rights.  Do you ever notice if you go on Amazon and shop for a particular handbag, and then later when you visit other websites, you see handbag ads on other sites you visit?  That is what I mean by cookies being used in targeted advertisements. 

Watch this Short Video (4min) Explaining What a Cookie is:

This great video explains how cookies work, how cookies can be useful, and how advertisers use cookies to display ads.  Take a look.


How Do I Enable or Disable Cookies?

If you don’t want cookies on your computer, no problem. Disabling cookies in your browser is easy! And if you change your mind in the future, you can turn that back on as easily, too.

Follow the links below to learn how to disable cookies in your browser:
   Chrome: https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/61416
   Firefox: https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/enable-and-disable-cookies-website-preferences
   Safari: https://support.apple.com/guide/safari/manage-cookies-sfri11471/mac

Steps to clear the cookies that are currently in your browser:
   Chrome: https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/95647
   Firefox: https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/delete-cookies-remove-info-websites-stored
   Safari: https://support.apple.com/guide/safari/manage-cookies-sfri11471/mac

Easy “Cookie Consent” Plugins:

Now, If you have a WordPress website, you can add a “Cookie Consent” plugin to your website.

Cookie Notice & Compliance for GDPR / CCPA

cookie notice plugin

With the Cookie Notice & Compliance plugin, you can display a simple cookie consent banner with a custom message on your website. Your website visitors provide their consent by clicking, scrolling, or closing the banner. (this is the plugin we are currently using) Click here to learn more about this plugin: https://wordpress.org/plugins/cookie-notice/

Termly | GDPR/CCPA Cookie Consent Banner

Termly GDPR plugin

The Termly plugin, formerly called “Cookie Consent”, adds a little pop-up at the top of your browser and creates a Cookie policy page on your site.  It’s pretty cool! (and if you had “Cookie Consent” before, now when you look in your site you will see Termly) You can find out more about the Termly plugin here: https://wordpress.org/plugins/uk-cookie-consent/

CookieYes | GDPR Cookie Consent & Compliance Notice (CCPA Ready)

CookieYes plugin

Cookie Yes is another popular and highly rated cookie plugin. This plugin adds a cookie banner to your WordPress website either in the header or footer. You can customize this cookie notice so that it matches the look of your website. Learn more about CookieYes here: https://wordpress.org/plugins/cookie-law-info/

Final Thoughts on Cookies

Though computer cookies are not as fun as their edible counterpart, they’re really nothing to worry about. Personally, I’m fine with websites leaving cookies because I WANT the website to remember me. It saves me time and effort the next time I visit that website. However, you can still browse the internet without cookies if you prefer. 

If you have a WordPress website, check out one of the plugins above to help you stay within the Cookie Laws. 

For more information on common internet terms, check out my Glossary of Terms. And bookmark it for reference!

(this article first appeared here in May, 2018)

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