Different Types of Internet Cookies

In the vast expanse of the internet, where billions of users click, scroll, and explore every day, there exist tiny observers that often pop up on our screens. These digital entities, known as internet cookies shape everyone’s online experience. These unassuming bits of technology have fundamentally transformed the way advertisers understand, engage, and target their audiences online. 

Every click, every scroll, and every interaction leaves a digital trace that is tracked by the internet cookies. They form the foundation of the advertising ecosystem we encounter on a daily basis. But what exactly are these digital trackers, and how do they influence the ads that people see and the websites they visit?

What are internet cookies?

The term “cookie” itself was coined by web browser developer John Giannandrea, who used it to describe the small pieces of data that websites store on a user’s computer.

Cookies, in essence, are small fragments of code utilized by websites to store data on a user’s device. They serve as instrumental tools for creating a seamless and personalized online experience. Essentially, cookies act as digital markers that remember crucial information, such as login details and user preferences. 

They play a pivotal role in enabling websites and advertisers to provide content and advertisements tailored to individual users. However, it’s important to note that the world of cookies is not static; it evolves continuously, adapting to changes in technology, addressing user privacy concerns, and accommodating the ever-shifting dynamics of the internet landscape.

How do cookies work?

Cookies are a crucial mechanism for websites to store and retrieve information on your computer or device, enabling a more personalized and efficient browsing experience. Here is a step-by-step process of how cookies work.

  1. Requesting a web page

The process begins when a user opens their web browser and requests a specific web page by entering a website’s URL or clicking on a link.

  1. Server response

Upon receiving the user’s request, the web server hosting the website processes it and generates a response. This response typically includes the requested web page’s HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files.

  1. Sending cookies

In cases where the website uses cookies, the server may send a set of cookies along with the response. These cookies are essentially small text files containing data specific to that website.

  1. Storing cookies

The user’s web browser receives the server’s response, including any cookies, and subsequently stores these cookies on the user’s computer or device in a designated folder.

  1. Subsequent requests

As the user continues to interact with the website (e.g., navigating to other pages, logging in, or customizing settings), their web browser automatically sends the stored cookies back to the web server with each subsequent request.

  1. Server-side processing

Upon receiving these cookies, the web server has the ability to read the data stored within them. This data can include user preferences, session identifiers, or other pertinent information.

  1. Customized responses

Based on the information contained in the cookies, the server can tailor its responses to the user’s specific requirements. For instance, if the user logs in to the website, the server can use a session cookie to recognize them and provide access to personalized content.

In the domain of online advertising, this personalization extends to the delivery of targeted advertisements. Cookies provide websites and advertisers with the capability to analyze a user’s browsing history and interests, allowing for the presentation of ads that are not only more pertinent but also more engaging to the individual user. 

Advertisers and publishers rely on the data stored in cookies to facilitate this tailored advertising experience. Consequently, when advertisements align seamlessly with the preferences and interests of the targeted audience, it is often the result of strategic cookie utilization.

What are the types of internet cookies?

There are different types of cookies used on the internet, each serving specific purposes based on their characteristics and how they store and manage data. The diversity of cookie types exists to enable websites and web applications to perform various functions and meet specific needs. Here are some of the most common types of cookies.

  1. Session cookies

Session cookies have been an integral part of web development since the early days of the World Wide Web. They were introduced to address the challenge of maintaining user state information across multiple web pages within a session. Session cookies, also known as transient cookies, are temporary cookies used to maintain session-specific information during a user’s interaction with a website or web application.

As the user interacts with the website, the session cookie is sent back to the server with each request, allowing the server to recognize and track the user’s session.

Session cookies are usually short-lived and automatically deleted when the user closes their web browser or ends their session.

  1. Persistent cookies

Persistent cookies have a longer lifespan than session cookies and remain on the user’s device even after the browsing session ends. They are commonly used to store user preferences, such as language settings, or for tracking user behavior over time.

Persistent cookies can persist for a specified duration, often set by the website, or until the user manually deletes them.

  1. First-party cookies

First-party cookies are cookies set by the website or domain that the user is actively visiting. They are directly related to the website and its services. They are frequently used for user authentication. When they log in to a website, a first-party cookie is often set to maintain their logged-in status during your session. This prevents the need for repeated logins as they navigate the site. 

E-commerce websites

extensively use first-party cookies to maintain and manage shopping cart contents.  Some first-party cookies are used for tracking and analytics, but their scope is typically limited to gathering data about user interactions within the specific website. This data helps website owners understand user behavior and improve site performance.

  1. Third-party cookies 

Unlike first-party cookies, which are directly related to the website being accessed, third-party cookies are set and managed by external entities, such as advertisers, analytics services, and social media platforms. 

These cookies are used to track users across different websites and collect data about their online behavior. However, third-party cookies have gained notoriety for several reasons. One of the primary reasons third-party cookies are viewed negatively is because they are often associated with invasive user tracking practices. 

Advertisers and data brokers use these cookies to create detailed user profiles by collecting data on a user’s browsing history, interests, and online activities across multiple websites. Users generally have limited control over third-party cookies. 

While some browsers offer options to block or manage cookies, the complex web of third-party tracking can be difficult for users to fully understand and control.

  1. Secure cookies

Secure cookies are a specific type of HTTP cookie designed to operate exclusively over secure HTTPS connections. They are used to enhance the security of data transmission between a user’s web browser and a web server. 

Secure cookies are a specific type of HTTP cookie designed to operate exclusively over secure HTTPS connections. They are used to enhance the security of data transmission between a user’s web browser and a web server.

  1. HttpOnly cookies

HttpOnly cookies are specifically designed to prevent client-side JavaScript code from accessing them. They are used to enhance security by mitigating certain types of cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks. The primary use case for HttpOnly cookies is to store sensitive information such as session tokens or authentication tokens securely.

By preventing JavaScript from accessing the cookie’s content, HttpOnly cookies protect against attackers who may attempt to steal session information using XSS vulnerabilities. HttpOnly cookies are typically used for security-sensitive purposes, like user authentication and session management. They may sound similar to secure cookies but they are different. 

The difference between secure cookies and HttpOnly cookies is that they are designed to work exclusively over secure HTTPS connections. They ensure that data transmitted between the user’s browser and the server remains confidential and protected from interception.

Each type of cookie has a distinct purpose and plays a specific role in improving the user experience, optimizing website functionality, and supporting online advertising and analytics efforts. It’s important for both website operators and users to be aware of how cookies are used and to manage them in accordance with their privacy preferences and regulatory requirements.

What is the role of cookies in audience targeting?

Cookies play a significant role in data collection and addressability in the digital world. Their importance stems from their ability to store and manage user data, allowing websites and advertisers to deliver a more personalized and effective online experience. Here’s an overview of their role and importance:

1. Data Collection

  • User Behavior Tracking: Cookies are instrumental in tracking user behavior on websites. They record actions such as pages visited, time spent on each page, links clicked, and interactions with site elements.
  • User Preferences: Cookies can store user preferences, such as language settings, location preferences, and customization choices.
  • Authentication: Cookies help websites remember if a user is logged in, reducing the need for repeated logins during a session.
  • Shopping Carts: E-commerce sites use cookies to maintain and update shopping cart contents.

2. Personalization

Cookies enable websites to provide personalized content and recommendations based on a user’s past interactions and preferences. This personalization enhances the user experience and can lead to increased engagement and satisfaction.

3. Advertising

  • Targeted advertising: Cookies are crucial for delivering targeted advertisements. Advertisers use data collected from cookies to understand a user’s interests and behavior, allowing them to display ads that are more relevant to the individual.
  • Frequency capping: Cookies help manage the number of times a user sees a particular ad, preventing ad fatigue.
  • Ad attribution: Cookies assist in tracking the effectiveness of advertising campaigns and attributing conversions to specific ads or marketing channels.

4. Analytics

Cookies are used in web analytics tools to gather data on website traffic and user interactions. This data helps website owners and marketers make informed decisions about content, design, and user experience improvements.

5. Addressability

Cookies are a key component of addressability, which refers to the ability to identify and engage with individual users across multiple sessions and devices. Cross-device tracking relies on cookies to link a user’s actions on desktop, mobile, and other devices, creating a more comprehensive user profile.

6. User Tracking and retargeting

Cookies enable advertisers to track user interactions with their ads and websites. If a user visits an e-commerce site, for example, and views a product but doesn’t make a purchase, cookies can be used to retarget that user with relevant ads across different websites or platforms.

7. User experience optimization

Cookies can store user-specific settings and preferences, allowing websites to provide a consistent and personalized experience each time a user visits. Cookies can remember the user’s chosen language, specific region or location preferences, as currency, time zone, or content relevant to their geographic area. Cookies can store these preferences for a tailored experience.

What is the future of cookies?

In 2024, a significant shift is anticipated in the realm of online privacy as Google Chrome plans to completely phase out the use of third-party cookies. This decision comes in response to escalating concerns regarding user privacy, a trend that has gained momentum since the 2010s. It reflects a broader movement driven by regulatory developments, such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which underscore the importance of safeguarding user data.

What does this mean for other types of cookies? 

While Google’s decision primarily targets third-party cookies, it’s important to note that other types of cookies, particularly first-party cookies, will remain unaffected. These cookies continue to serve vital functions, such as maintaining user sessions, remembering login credentials, and personalizing user experiences.

However, it’s not just browser changes that are shaping the future of cookies. Privacy regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA, have imposed requirements on websites to ensure transparency and user control over all types of cookies, including first-party cookies. This places a significant emphasis on respecting user choices and providing clear information about data collection and usage.

What are the alternatives for third-party cookies?

Alternative approaches are emerging to address user privacy concerns while still allowing for effective advertising and content personalization. Some of these alternatives include.

1. Contextual advertising 

Contextual targeting and contextual advertising focuses on placing ads based on the content and context of a web page rather than tracking individual user behavior. This approach respects user privacy while still delivering relevant ads.

2. Server-side tracking

Traditionally, tracking and analytics have relied heavily on client-side technologies, such as cookies and JavaScript. In server-side tracking and analytics, data collection occurs on the web server, rather than within the user’s browser. Aggregated data, such as page views, user interactions, or transaction information, is then analyzed and reported without exposing individual user information. 

However, it is important to note that implementing server-side tracking and analytics can be more complex and may require changes to the server infrastructure and data handling processes. Programmatic platforms can play a significant role in assisting with data handling when implementing server-side tracking and analytics.

3. Privacy-preserving technologies

New technologies and protocols are being developed to enhance user privacy while still enabling personalized experiences. Examples include Privacy Sandbox initiatives, which aim to strike a balance between user privacy and advertising personalization.

The future of cookies is likely to involve a combination of these alternatives and continued efforts to protect user privacy while maintaining the functionality and personalization that users have come to expect from the internet. It’s an ongoing and complex transition that aims to find a middle ground between privacy and user experience.

While cookies provide valuable benefits for data collection and addressability, it’s important to note that their usage has raised privacy concerns. Many users are increasingly aware of data privacy and may opt to manage or block cookies through browser settings or employ privacy-focused browser extensions. This evolving landscape has prompted discussions around alternative tracking methods, such as server-side tracking and contextual advertising, which aim to balance user privacy with data-driven personalization and addressability.

You May Also Like

Leave a Reply