What are cookies, exactly, and are they good or bad? Cyber security experts break it down

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You have probably received notifications from several websites asking permission to give you cookies. Find out what that means. (Photo: Getty)
It's almost inevitable these days: you visit a website and receive a notification asking you to read the company's cookie policy. Then the website asks if they can have your permission to give you cookies.
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Chances are you'll just click through, not bother reading the policy and continue browsing the web, because who has time for that? But cookies allow websites to track your movements, and it's understandable that you might not agree with that - or even really be aware of what's actually happening.
Everyone has cookies, but not everyone knows how to delete cookies from their computer or why it's important. A quick and easy way to delete cookies that are tracking you online is to download software like McAfee Multi Access, which will remove cookies and temporary files from your computer for you. The software also blocks virus, malware, spyware, and ransomware attacks.
Try McAfee Multi Access free for 30 days*
But what exactly are cookies and why is it important to delete them in certain cases? Cyber ​​security experts break it all down.
Not sure what cookies are? Cookies are small pieces of data that identify your computer to a website with a unique code. (Photo: Getty)
What are cookies again?
Joseph Steinberg, a consultant on cybersecurity and new technologies, tells Yahoo Life that "cookies refer to one or more small pieces of data" that identify your computer to that website with a unique code. Cookies are sent to your device from a web server while you are on that server's website.
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Your computer stores this cookie, and when you revisit that site, "the server can recognize that it's the same device that was used previously," explains Steinberg.
Cookies are "used extensively by marketing companies who can target your interests and buying habits," technology and cybersecurity expert Chuck Brooks, president of Brooks Consulting International, tells Yahoo Life. Cookies are the reason why you keep tabs on a new pair of sandals on one website and then see ads for the same pair of sandals on other websites.
Why are you being asked if a website can give you cookies?
Your so-called "cookie persona" can be shared with or sold to companies, Brooks says. A European privacy law called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) "recognized this as a threat to consumer privacy," Brooks says. As a result, he adds, "This is one reason many websites ask for permission to track your personal information."
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Are cookies good or bad?
You can be both. “Cookies can be extremely useful — and many collaborative activities would be difficult without them,” says Steinberg. "Authentication cookies, for example, allow a user who logs into a website to click and view multiple pages on the website without having to re-authenticate each time he or she tries to access another page that requires authentication is required."
Cookies are generally divided into two groups:
Session cookies, which expire immediately after you are online
Persistent cookies that stay with you over many different web sessions
"Cookies can also allow a website to remember a user's username — without authenticating the user — or other personalization settings," says Steinberg.
But cookies aren't always great. Privacy issues are one thing to consider. "It's best to know who is tracking your activity, and you should review and remove potentially unwanted cookies," suggests Brooks.
Steinberg says: “One of the problems with cookies is that many websites now use third-party cookies. For example, many websites may present banner ads from the same ad provider, and code from that provider may send and receive cookies to run on all those websites, allowing your activity to be tracked across multiple websites."
Not all cookies are bad. Some can be very useful, experts say. (Photo: Getty)
How to delete cookies
How often you should delete your cookies and which ones you should remove depends on the device you are using. "If you're using a work tool, I recommend using full-coverage cleaning ports," says Brooks. This means that you should regularly remove all your cookies.
"On personal devices, I would check the cookies frequently and remove those that you don't want to be continuously tracked," says Brooks.
Every web browser is slightly different, but in Chrome, for example, you would need to follow the steps below to clear cookies:
Click on the three dotted lines in the upper right corner (the tools menu)
Choose "Story"
Enable "Clear browsing data" and set the scope to "all times" or a specific period (if you know you don't want to clear cookies before a specific date).
Enable "Cookies and other site data" and "Clear data".
Exit the browser to save your changes
Don't feel like doing this regularly? Software like McAfee Multi Access can do this for you, filtering out unwanted cookies and keeping the ones you need.
Cookies aren't inherently bad, Steinberg points out — but what companies do with the information they collect can, in some cases, be.
Try McAfee Multi Access free for 30 days*
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