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Should You Accept Browser Cookies? Hint: Not Always


Joanna Yuen

Marketing & Content Specialist - 29 Mar, 2024


The internet goes all the way back to 1983. Many of us have been using the internet every single day, and yet a few parts of it are still a mystery.

One of the main features of the online landscape that people seem to struggle with is cookies. What are cookies, anyway? What do they really do? Do we count on them to make our online experience better? Or are they spying on behalf of someone out there? Many people immediately accept cookies without thinking about - or even really understanding - their purpose. The truth is that’s not always the best idea.

In this article, we’re breaking down what you need to know about browser cookies and how to make the most of them. We’ll tackle the question: “Should you accept browser cookies?” - and you might be surprised at the answer.

Browser Cookies 101

Browser cookies are small text files that are stored on a user's computer by a web browser. They’re used to store information about the user's browsing activity and preferences. Cookies are created by websites and are sent to the user's browser where they are then stored. When the user visits that same website again, the browser sends the cookies back to the website, allowing it to recognize the user and personalize their experience. Think of it as a communication between the browser and the websites you use, meant to share information that can improve your experience. However, they also help the websites and provide some unique information. Cookies serve various purposes and are used by websites for different reasons. Some common uses of cookies include:

  • Session management - Cookies are often used to manage user sessions on websites. They help maintain user login information and enable users to navigate between pages without having to log in repeatedly.
  • Personalization - Cookies allow websites to remember user preferences and settings. For example, a website can remember the user's language preference or display customized content based on their previous interactions.
  • Tracking - Cookies are used for tracking user behavior on websites. They can provide valuable insights into how users navigate the site, which pages are popular, and how users interact with advertisements. This information is used by website owners to improve their site's performance, user experience, and marketing efforts, and provide valuable information that can be used when making business decisions.
  • Advertising - Cookies play a crucial role in online advertising via today’s digital market. They are used to track user interests and serve targeted advertisements. Advertisers use cookies to deliver ads that are relevant to the user's browsing history and preferences, increasing the chances of engagement and conversion. When you get an ad for a product whose web page you visited recently, that’s due to cookies.
  • Analytics - Cookies are also used for web analytics purposes. They help website owners understand how users interact with their site, measure traffic, and gather demographic information. This data is used to make informed decisions about website design, content, and marketing strategies.

It is important to note that there are different types of cookies with varying levels of privacy and security implications. Here are some commonly used types of cookies:

  • First-party cookies - These cookies are created by the website the user is currently visiting. They are primarily used for session management and personalization purposes. First-party cookies are generally considered less intrusive as they only track user activity on the specific website.
  • Third-party cookies - These cookies are created by websites other than the one the user is currently visiting. They are often used for advertising and tracking purposes across multiple websites. Third-party cookies can raise privacy concerns as they allow advertisers to track users' browsing behavior across different sites, and they are the subject of a lot of scrutiny right now (more on this below).
  • Persistent cookies - These cookies are stored on the user's computer for a longer duration, often with an expiration date. They can be used to remember user preferences and settings across multiple visits to a website.
  • Secure cookies - These cookies are only transmitted over an encrypted (HTTPS) connection, providing an extra layer of security. They are commonly used for websites that handle sensitive information, such as online banking or e-commerce sites.

While cookies offer many benefits, they also raise privacy concerns. Some users may feel uncomfortable with their online activity being tracked and their personal information being stored. To address these concerns, many web browsers provide options to control cookie settings. Users can choose to block or delete cookies, or selectively allow cookies from trusted websites.

In conclusion, browser cookies are small text files that store information about a user's browsing activity and preferences. They are used by websites for session management, personalization, tracking, advertising, and analytics purposes. While cookies offer benefits in terms of improving user experience and website performance, privacy concerns exist, and users have the option to control cookie settings in their web browsers.

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Addressing Cookie Concerns

Users have several concerns about cookies, primarily related to privacy and security. Here are some common concerns and ways users can address them:

Tracking and Privacy

Many users are concerned about the extensive tracking of their online activities by websites and advertisers. They worry that their browsing history and personal information may be collected and used without their consent. To address this concern, users can take the following steps:

  1. Review and adjust cookie settings: Most web browsers allow users to control cookie settings. Users can choose to block or restrict cookies, or set preferences for accepting only necessary cookies. This can help limit the amount of tracking and data collection.
  2. Clear cookies regularly: Users can regularly clear their browser cookies to remove any stored information. This can help reduce the tracking and profiling done by websites.
  3. Use private browsing mode: Browsers often offer a private or incognito mode that doesn't store cookies or browsing history. This can provide a more private browsing experience, although it doesn't guarantee complete anonymity.
  4. Use a browser that limits logging in and out: If one of the appeals of cookies is that websites remember your credentials and you don’t need to log in and out - but you’re uncomfortable with the tracking - you can switch your browser to Shift. With Shift, you can set up custom Workspaces where you are logged in without needing to use your credentials every time. This can limit the logging in and out process without the use of new cookies.

Security Risks

Cookies can potentially be exploited by malicious actors to gain unauthorized access to user accounts or personal information. Users are concerned about the security risks associated with cookies. To address this concern, users can:

  1. Keep software up to date: Regularly updating web browsers and operating systems helps protect against known security vulnerabilities.
  2. Use secure websites: Users should ensure they only interact with websites that use HTTPS encryption. Secure websites encrypt the data transmitted between the user and the site, reducing the risk of interception and unauthorized access to cookies.
  3. Be cautious with public computers: When using public computers or shared devices, users should avoid storing sensitive information or logging into accounts that rely on cookies for authentication.

Advertisements and Privacy

Users often find targeted advertisements based on their browsing history intrusive and feel that their privacy is being compromised. To address this concern, users can:

  1. Opt-out of targeted advertising: Many advertising networks provide options to opt-out of targeted advertising. Users can visit the websites of advertising companies or use online tools to manage their ad preferences. In other words, this is a time where you would refuse cookies when the option is presented to you.
  2. Install ad-blocking extensions: Users can install browser extensions or add-ons that block advertisements, including those targeted based on cookies. These tools can help reduce the visibility of personalized ads.

Data Sharing

Users are concerned about their personal information being shared with third parties without their knowledge or consent. To address this concern, users can:

  1. Read privacy policies: Users should review the privacy policies of websites they visit to understand how their data, including cookie information, is collected, used, and shared. We know this is time consuming, but it really is the best way to understand who is collecting your data and how it will be used.
  2. Opt-out of data sharing: Some websites provide options to opt-out of data sharing with third parties. Users can look for these options in privacy settings or contact website administrators to inquire about data sharing practices.

Cookie Consent

Users may be concerned about the lack of transparency and control over cookie consent. To address this concern, users can:

  1. Use cookie consent management tools: There are browser extensions and tools available that help manage cookie consent by automatically accepting or rejecting cookies based on user preferences.
  2. Customize cookie preferences: Some websites provide options to customize cookie preferences and give users more control over which types of cookies they accept.

Hopefully this list gives you a few ideas of how you can mitigate the risks that come with cookies - and the ability to decide when it’s just not worth it to you. In those cases, you may want to just decline the use of cookies when you get the prompts. It's also really important to note that while these steps can help address user concerns, they may affect the functionality and user experience of certain websites. Users should consider their individual preferences and balance privacy concerns with the desired functionality when managing cookie settings.

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When to Accept Browser Cookies: Factors to Consider

Whether you should always accept browser cookies or not really comes down to your preferences and concerns regarding privacy and convenience. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Convenience - Cookies can enhance your browsing experience by remembering your preferences, such as language settings, login information, and shopping cart items. Accepting cookies may make it easier and more convenient to use websites and online services.
  • Personalization -  Cookies can be used to personalize your online experience by delivering targeted content and advertisements based on your interests and behavior. If you find value in receiving tailored recommendations and content, accepting cookies may be beneficial.
  • Privacy - On the other hand, cookies can also be used to track your online activities and collect data about you. Some users may have concerns about their privacy and the potential misuse of their personal information. In such cases, you may choose to reject or limit the use of cookies.
  • Security - Cookies can also be used for security purposes, such as preventing fraudulent activities and protecting your account. Accepting cookies from trusted sources can help maintain the security of your online interactions.
  • Control - Most modern browsers provide options to control cookie settings. You can choose to accept all cookies, block all cookies, or selectively accept cookies from specific websites. Adjusting these settings allows you to have more control over the types of cookies you accept.

Ultimately, the decision to accept browser cookies or not is a personal one and for many people it comes down to convenience. That being said, it's important to strike a balance between convenience and privacy, and always consider the specific website or service you are interacting with.

Manage Cookie Settings

So, if you want to change the way that you interact with cookies, what choices do you have? Users can usually access cookie settings in most web browsers through the browser's preferences or settings menu. The exact location may vary slightly depending on the browser, but here are some common paths to access cookie settings in popular browsers:

  • Google Chrome - Click on the three-dot menu icon in the top-right corner, then select "Settings." Scroll down and click on "Advanced" to expand the advanced settings. Under the "Privacy and security" section, click on "Site settings," then scroll down and click on "Cookies and site data."
  • Mozilla Firefox - Click on the three-line menu icon in the top-right corner, then select "Options." In the left sidebar, choose "Privacy & Security." Under the "Cookies and Site Data" section, click on the "Manage Data" button.
  • Safari (Mac) -  Click on "Safari" in the menu bar, then select "Preferences." In the Preferences window, click on the "Privacy" tab. From there, you can manage cookie settings and choose to block or allow cookies.
  • Microsoft Edge - Click on the three-dot menu icon in the top-right corner, then select "Settings." In the left sidebar, click on "Cookies and site permissions." Under the "Cookies and site data" section, click on the "Manage and delete cookies and site data" option.
  • Internet Explorer - Click on the gear icon in the top-right corner, then select "Internet options." In the Internet Options window, click on the "Privacy" tab. You can adjust the cookie settings using the slider or click on the "Advanced" button for more options.

It's important to note that the specific names and locations of cookie settings may differ based on the browser version and operating system. You can always refer to your browser's documentation or do a search for specific instructions based on your system.

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The Latest Rules and Regulations

We mentioned earlier that some changes were happening due to controversy about cookies. There are new rules and regulations around managing cookies, especially in the European Union (EU) and other jurisdictions that have implemented similar data protection laws. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU and the ePrivacy Directive (also known as the "Cookie Law") have introduced stricter requirements for websites and online services in terms of obtaining user consent for the use of cookies.

Under these regulations, website owners and operators are required to inform users about the types of cookies used, their purpose, and obtain their consent before placing non-essential cookies on their devices. Non-essential cookies include those used for tracking, advertising, and analytics purposes.

The regulations also emphasize the importance of providing users with clear and granular choices regarding cookie preferences. Users should have the ability to accept or reject different types of cookies or manage their cookie settings easily - and to do that, they need to clearly understand what is happening with cookies on their device. Therefore, the regulations require website owners to provide clear and easily accessible information about their data processing practices, including how cookies are used, how long the data is retained, and who has access to it.

It's important for website owners and operators to adhere to these regulations to ensure the privacy and data protection rights of their users. Failure to comply can result in penalties and legal consequences, so many companies have changed their online practices -around marketing especially - to meet the latest regulations.

It's worth noting that the specific rules and regulations may vary depending on the jurisdiction. Website owners should always consult legal experts or refer to the specific regulations in their country or region to ensure compliance. Similarly, if you have concerns about how cookies are using your data, look up the specific restrictions in your area.

Shift: Skip the Logging in and Out

Many people don’t love the concept of cookies, but they don’t want to give up the convenience that comes with having their data stored on websites. Having to constantly find or recall credentials, put them into the fields, and then navigate away from a site can be time-consuming and annoying. Many people have trouble remembering passwords but are not comfortable storing them in a convenient place. There’s a fine line between keeping things easy and creating vulnerabilities with your online habits - and that’s where Shift comes in.

With the Shift browser, you can easily access and store tabs and bookmarks in Workspaces. This makes it simple to have important tabs on-hand and organized by workspace, then bookmark them for quick access later on. You can even add your favorite extensions and make sure they are set up with the programs you use most in your browser. Leveraging Workspaces is a great way to cut down the logging in and out process that can be so cumbersome.

In fact, Shift is the first browser to merge all of your web apps into one powerful window. Streamline everything you do online when you install Shift and access thousands of apps without leaving your browser. You can connect all of your Gmail, Outlook, and Office 365 accounts and manage everything from one centralized window. You can also build out your Shift browser with apps that integrate seamlessly so you have ultra-fast access to all the tools you use to stream, shop, work, browse, and stay connected. Simply put: Shift brings it all together. Shift also offers these powerful features that go far beyond logging in and out:

  • Email management (Gmail, GSuite, Outlook, Office 365, Yahoo! Mail)
  • +1,500 app integrations (Facebook Messenger, Slack, WhatsApp, Instagram)
  • Epic Search, one search across all of your apps and inboxes
  • Focused browser Workspaces
  • Notification management - customize notices for every app and account

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The truth is that we don’t use the internet for a simple search anymore. Each day, users juggle multiple apps, tabs, and accounts. The browser you use can either make the experience better, or make one big mess. Shift is designed to keep things simple and streamlined across your entire browser experience.