What are cookies?

What are cookies? In this article we explain what internet cookies are and what types of cookies we can identify. Cookies are text files with tiny bits of information that can be used for many different purposes. An example of this type of information are login details as a username and password combination. Internet cookies can be very useful for using the internet. Apart from remembering which websites a user has visited, cookies also form information to make browsing and filling in digital forms more quickly and efficiently. Without cookies websites would be less convenient and interactive for users.

Cookies are also used for tracking information from website users. Digital marketing departments of companies can use this information for marketing and sales purposes.
Companies can use the gathered user data for generating new business. That is why it is so important for companies to use tracking technologies for collecting user data.

Digital marketers use the data that is being collected for creating targeted advertising campaigns. For example by using Google Analytics in combination with Google Ads or Google Adsense. But of course there are many analytics tools and advertising platforms that digital marketers are using for targeting website users.

Data protection laws like the GDPR, ePrivacy, LGPD and CCPA are constantly changing and evolving. Most of these regulations require website owners to obtain cookie consent from their visitors. And also often an up-to-date cookie policy is required. This cookie policy must contain a regularly updated list of all the cookies that are present on a website.

In the following paragraphs we will take a closer look at what cookies are and what types we can identify. Also you will learn what data protection laws like the GDPR, the LGPD, or the CCPA dictate about handling cookies and cookie consent.

What are cookies on the internet?

So, if we look at cookies from a technical perspective, cookies actually text files with tiny bits of information. This information can be for many different purposes, like login details for example, a username and password combination. When you log in onto a webportal or other online platform that you regularly use, ‘remembering’ and automatically filling in login details could be very handy. The information that can be stored in cookies can differ from the web pages that you visit to the actual data that you submit to the website yourself. We also define HTTP cookies. These cookies are mostly used for identifying users in order to improve your user experience.

When you visit a website, you connect with the website’s server. At that moment the data is being stored in the cookie and has created a unique user ID to recognize your device. When the server reads out your cookie information and matches your ID, it can serve you data that is tailored to your data profile.

So, cookies can be really useful for you as a website visitor and help you smoothly navigate the internet, without having to perform certain actions repeatedly and immediately showing you information that likely fits your interests.

From all these preferences and user information that is shared statistics can be derived. For example how long visitors stay on certain web pages, how many times they come back and at what times. For digital marketers with web analytics tools this data can be used to create campaigns and tailor these to user segments in order to generate more sales.

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What types of cookies exist?

It depends on how you classify cookies, from a technical perspective or by looking at the specific purpose cookies might have. Cookie consent management platforms like CookieFirst might have more and other classification categories. First we will go by the technical approach. From a technical point of view we can define session cookies and persistent cookies. But most CMP’s classify cookies by their purpose using categories such as: necessary, functional, performance, advertising and others.

What are Session Cookies?

Session cookies are placed on your computer during a website visiting session and are removed when you leave the website and close the browser. The cookie is stored in the temporary memory of your computer.

Session cookies enable a website to follow you as a user going through a website from page to page. For example when you are on a webshop and you have added a few items to your shopping cart, this information can be stored in a session cookie so you can visit other web pages. The shopping cart session cookie will store this information until you go through the checkout process. After the checkout, your shopping cart is empty and the session cookie is deleted.

Websites don’t have memory themselves but use cookies for that. You can think of these cookies as keys. When your computer has the key already, the website immediately can let you in, instead of treating you as a new visitor on each page view.

What are Persistent cookies?

Persistent cookies are placed on your computer for a longer period of time. These are only removed after passing the cookie’s expiration time or until the user removes it himself.

Because this type of cookie stays on your computer for a longer period of time than session cookies, persistent cookies can be used for multiple purposes like storing login details and remembering your preferences or settings. Persistent cookies are mostly used for tracking visitors when they navigate through a website to ‘see’ what the visitor likes so his or her user experience can be improved. The Google Analytics cookie must be the most well known persistent cookie that we can think of.

What are advertising cookies?

From a marketing perspective we can use a different kind of categorisation for cookies. These categories are mostly related to targeted advertising.

What are personalization cookies

When you visit a website these cookies can tailor your web session for you. While moving through the website the cookie collects information on your preferences and uses that information for displaying advertisements that might be of interest to you. This process can start immediately when you are visiting the website.

What are tracking cookies?

Tracking cookies collect information about your website behaviour so that a user profile can be created. This user profile information is mostly bundled with a lot of other user profiles and can be sold to third parties in order to serve targeted advertising at a later point in time. This can be very useful to marketing departments.

So the concept of storing information in cookies can be very useful to you as a website visitor, but could also be very valuable to the website owner’s marketing intelligence.

Why are cookies stored on my computer?

Websites can have a lot of users. If the user data stored in cookies would be stored on the website’s server it would cost the website’s owner more money in terms of data usage / storage. That is why this data storage is moved to the visitor’s side.

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What are the laws for cookies?

Cookies can store data and can provide website owners with a lot of personal information on user preferences and user activity without the user’s explicit consent. For quite some time there was no specific law that regulated this concept. But with all the global data protection laws and privacy laws like the GDPR, ePrivacy, LGPD and CCPA coming into effect the time of collecting personal data without consent is over.

The privacy regulations had to emerge at some point as the data intelligence tools have gotten quite sophisticated and use more extensive technology to track users, build user profiles and are able to touch a user’s privacy more than before.

What most of these regulations have in common in relation to cookies is the requirement for explicit and informed cookie consent. The user has to be informed about the cookie usage on a website in a way that is clear and easy to understand. Also, it has to be as easy to change cookie preferences or to revoke cookie consent as it is to accept cookies.

So, just a banner with an Ok button does not make you compliant. The user’s consent must be LGPD compliant and must be stored so it can be proven by the website owner. Also the user has the right to revoke his consent and have all of his stored data removed.

A cookie consent management platform (CMP) like CookieFirst can make your website compliant with the data protection laws and privacy regulations in terms of cookie requirements.

Using a cookie consent management platform for website compliance

A consent management platform can help you in making your websites compliant to the cookie-related requirements that the global data protection laws dictate. Many of these CMP’s classify cookies and third party scripts into specific categories. We group the cookies in order to make it easier for the website visitor to set the right preferences and enable the user to consent to certain cookie categories.

What are necessary cookies?

Necessary cookies are cookies that are used by website scripts that are necessary for the core functionality of a website and for security measures in order to protect a website from external attacks. These cookies are required simply because otherwise the website would not function properly. Because these cookies are just needed for core functionality of a website they can be placed without consent of the user. (according to most privacy laws)

What are functional cookies?

Functional cookies are cookies that enable additional functionality on top of the core functionality of a website. These cookies are not necessary per sé, but can improve the visitor’s user experience a lot. An example of functional cookies are cookies that are used for enabling a web chat feature that allows the visitor to talk to a customer support team.

What are performance cookies?

Performance cookies are defined as cookies that enable data analysis that can be used for improving the website’s experience and performance. There are a lot of analytics tools out there who’s cookies can be classified as performance cookies. However, this can differ per geographical (and legal) region, and even per country. Google Analytics is the most well known performance cookie. In some cases the Google Analytics cookie can be classified as a necessary cookie, but only if you have enabled anonymized IP addresses in Google Analytics. If you would like to know more about this, please contact us via our contact form.

What are marketing cookies or advertising cookies?

Marketing and advertising cookies are cookies that are related to online advertising platforms like Google Ads, Adsense, DoubleClick and lots of others. This is the category of cookies and third party scripts that touches the user’s privacy the most. And according to most privacy laws an active opt-in is required by the user to give explicit consent to this category.

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