Everything You Need to Know About Internet Cookies and Privacy Issues [INFOGRAPHIC]

Everything You Need to Know About Internet Cookies and Privacy Issues [INFOGRAPHIC]

Updated January 4, 2021

You might have noticed that, lately, it seems as if every website you navigate to is asking you to accept “third party cookies.” What are internet cookies? Are they a privacy concern? Should you accept third party cookies or find a workaround? All valid questions that are important to your understanding of internet security. 

We’ve compiled all the answers to your important questions about internet cookies so you can make an informed decision about whether to allow third party cookies moving forward. 

What are cookies on the internet?

Internet cookies are pieces of data that are passed to your web browser when you visit certain sites. Isn’t it nice when you arrive at a website you’ve visited often and that website already knows your language preferences and login information? That’s all thanks to cookies. When you visit a site, this information is stored as a cookie.txt file. When you visit that certain website or page again, your browser sends this information back to the server so your experience will be customized based on the information you provided earlier. 

There are two types of cookies you need to know about: first party and third party cookies. Each different version uses the same type of file explained above, but the difference is in how the file is used.

cookies on the internet

What are first party cookies?

Generally, first party cookies are used to provide a better experience for you on the web. They allow information such as passwords, language preferences, location or settings to remain the same each time you come to a website. Since first party cookies allow this information about you to be stored, you don’t always have to select your language for sites you’ve visited before. It makes it faster to access information and it makes your user experience easier. 

first party cookies

What are third party cookies?

Third party cookies get their name because they aren’t made by the domain you’re visiting, but by an additional third party. They can be used to track you across the internet and retarget you with different online advertising. 

These cookies can be accessed through any website that will accept the cookie’s code. So when you see a message informing you that a website is “now accepting third party cookies” that’s what it is referring to. 

Here’s an example to help you understand: Let’s say you’re reading your favorite news site. That site will remember what article you read and what language you read it in so that the next time you visit they’ll be able to show you what you want. That’s a first party cookie at work. 

You’ll probably also see ads displayed on the page you read. These ads will also save a cookie to your computer, but since that cookie isn’t coming from the news site directly it’s called a third party cookie. 

Third party cookies in action

Where are you most likely to see third party cookies at work? Here are the two common places you’ll find them. 

  • Ad retargeting
    • Ad retargeting is where a company whose website you’ve recently visited follows you elsewhere on the internet and displays ads to you that encourage you to revisit their website or online store to purchase products you were previously viewing. 
  • Social media
    • Have you ever used a social media plug-in to comment on a post that was on a third party website? A lot of these plug ins use third party cookies to operate, which allows social media sites to follow you around the internet, even if you’re not logged in. 

What information are they tracking? Everything from your behavior on the site to your location, even the device you’re accessing the site from. If you’re allowing third party cookies then you’ll need to accept that your movements can be traced across the internet. Some consumers have online privacy concerns and aren’t comfortable doing this. 

third party cookies

Do third party cookies pose internet privacy issues?

You’re probably wondering what security or privacy concerns third party cookies entail. Many people see third party cookies an invasion of their privacy or, at the very least, off-putting. Having an ad for something you briefly clicked on yesterday follow you around the internet can start getting creepy. Some people also have a moral or ethical problem with the extent to which their privacy is invaded by third party cookies. 

third party cookies privacy concerns 

How to protect your privacy with third party cookies

In order to enjoy some of the conveniences of the modern day internet you’re going to have to put up with some cookies. Many sites use third party cookies as a way to boost their revenue, so it’s likely they’ll block you from seeing content until you accept third party cookies. 

One option you can try is browsing in what’s known as Incognito mode, or Private mode. This is a special setting on your browser that automatically lets you browse with no stored cookies. When you exit the browser, none of your cookies will be saved so each time you open the browser in this mode it’s a fresh start. 

What you can also do is keep your privacy settings as strict as possible while still enjoying as many features on the internet that are important to you, such as saved passwords or user information. You can play around with your settings in the security or privacy menu for your browser. If you have several browsers that you use, remember each one will have different settings. 

Can you control internet cookies?

Each browser will have a different way to choose your privacy settings so you can limit how cookies are stored and used on your device. In most browsers in your security settings you’ll have the option to block all third party cookies, allow cookies only from sites you’ve already visited or accept cookies. Some browsers, like Safari and Firefox are automatically blocking third-party cookies by default. In 2020, Google announced that Chrome will also block third-party cookies via a phased approach that will finish completion in 2022. This announcement is expected to drastically change marketing methods in 2021 as marketers prepare to adjust to the new normal. 

You could also have the option of selecting which specific sites you allow cookies from. If you’re feeling proactive, you can choose to read each site’s third party cookies policy and add them to your list only if you feel comfortable with them. 

Should you accept third party cookies?

There’s no hard and fast rule that can tell you whether or not to accept third party cookies. Based on all the information you have, you’ll have to make a decision that’s right for you and your privacy.