An email that might make me hungry…

By | February 18, 2019
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I’ve a feeling this email is going to make me hungry.

You see, I’m sat here writing this with a cup of tea.  (Well, not writing it with a cup of tea – that would be messy.  I’m writing it with a PC and keyboard, but I mean I’m writing it while I drink a cup of tea.)

And I’m about to write about cookies – which might make me hungry. But I’m not writing about the chocolate chip ones… no, this is about the type you get on computers (and tablets, phones and so on).

It’s something lots of people get confused about… and sometimes worried about as you’ll hear people talking about cookies as bad things.

So I thought I’d explain what they are, what they do and so on.

So, first: What are Cookies?

They’re not a program – they can’t do anything in themselves.

They’re a little file of information that a website stores on your device to help the website work properly. It’s like a little text file (in fact usually it is a little text file).

The websites use them for a variety of different things.

A weather forecast website might use one to remember what town you last did a weather search for so next time you visit the site it can automatically show you the search for the same place.

A shop website might use one to remember what products you’ve put in your “shopping cart” before you’ve got as far as actually ordering them, so you can visit another page on the site and it won’t forget what you’re ordering.

Or a site you have to log in to might use one to remember that you have logged in – and who you are, so it can show you the relevant things and let you access things that only members can access.

Are they all the same?

Well, they all store different information – otherwise there’d be no point.  But there are a couple of big differences:

One is that some cookies are session cookies – that is, they’re used while you’re on the website and then when you close it down, they are deleted.  For example some shop websites only remember what’s in your basket while you’re on the site – come back tomorrow and the basket will be empty again. (Though this type is probably getting rarer.)

On the other hand, some cookies (I’d guess most) stay when you turn your device off, ready for next time you visit that website.

Also, some cookies are only used by one website – like one to remember what’s in your shopping basket.

Some others, like ones google use to try to make sure you see relevant adverts on websites, are used when you visit lots of sites.

It’s worth mentioning that these types of cookies don’t mean you’ll see more adverts – it just means they’ll try to show you ones about things you’re more interested in.

Why all the fuss?

Some people don’t like the idea of this information being stored about them – possibly without them even realising it.

It’s up to you how you feel about that, but it’s worth remembering that many website simply won’t work without cookies… or won’t work properly.  And the information in a cookie is stored on your device, not somewhere else. If you later delete them from your device (or wipe it altogether), they’re gone, so at least they’re within your control in that way.

A few years ago the EU brought in a new rule that means websites have to warn you if they use certain types of cookie – and ideally get you to click to say you’re happy with that (though some just say “By using this site you’re accepting that it uses cookies”).  I’m not sure this has done any good – but it explains why you get annoying boxes pop up the first time you visit some websites, saying you have to click a button before you can carry on using the site.

Are they only on Windows PCs?

For some reason people seem to make the most fuss about cookies on Windows PCs and laptops – I don’t know why. They work in much the same way on phones and tablets, too, whether you have an Apple iPhone/iPad or an Android tablet or phone.

So, would I recommend you worry about them?

If you’re really really worried about your privacy online, you might want to find out more and look into how to block or delete cookies.  My advice to most people is not worry too much about them. Personally, I’d rather allow them to store the little bits of info on my computer or phone and have the websites I use work properly!  

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