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Getting to Grips with Cookies

An online browse nowadays isn’t complete without a website asking you if you’re willing to accept its use of cookies. Most of us say yes automatically – just so we can continue browsing unhindered. But what are cookies exactly, and should we be concerned about them?

getting-to-grips-with-cookies

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A lot of media coverage in the past has tended to focus on the potentially negative aspects of cookies, which have been positioned as pieces of digital spyware, rather than what they are, which is harmless small digital files designed to facilitate user experiences online.

So what are cookies exactly?

Firstly, the key thing to know is that cookies are not computer programmes. They are simply text files which perform no actions. You can even read them if you want to; and if you do, you’ll see that they contain a user ID – unique to the device – and a site name.

The beauty of cookies

These simple but powerful text files are downloaded on to your laptop or PC when you first visit a website. If you allow the cookie, your device will remember the next time that you visit the site, and look out for a relevant cookie. This allows the website to identify if you are a previous visitor, and it can then tailor information that is shown back to you. For example, it might remember fields in a form or other actions which help to improve your user experience and reduce admin time.

Other cookies provide more in-depth and sophisticated information, such as user browsing time, click-throughs and even the user’s preferred colour schemes and page structures. They can also be used to capture analytics on items bought or stored in an online shopping cart. This has real benefits for businesses. Swansea web design and SEO agency http://www.accent-adc.co.uk use the information to make targeted online advertising campaigns, and help businesses to reach their target audiences more easily.

For customers, the experience is also beneficial, making the site interaction generally smoother and easier and reducing the amount of time spent filling out forms and setting preferences.

Any downsides?

There are opposing views to the value of cookies and their role in the online world. This viewpoint often depends on the user’s own perspectives on ‘big data’ and personal information being stored by organisations and companies. The information stored may not be exceptional or even particularly confidential, but some people do not want to have their information captured and added to marketing data lists at all.

The legal perspective

Whereas the use of cookies used to be seen as secretive, today websites are obliged to flag up their use to website visitors and check that they are happy to opt in for cookie use. Express permission has to be given by the user before cookies can be used on the site, which is given by a tick box. The UK’s Information Commission monitors companies to make sure they are complying with this legislation and strict data laws that define and manage how customer data may or may not be used. So ultimately, depending on how you feel about privacy and ease of browsing, your interaction with cookies online very much depends on your own preferences.