The Role of Cookies in Analytics and Privacy Issues they Raise

Cookies have become very important for online data analytics.
online cookies and privacy concerns
Shutterstock Photo License - By Artem Samokhvalov

There are a lot of issues in big data that warrant discussion. It is important to be aware of the different online data analytics metrics and tools used to track people online, since they shape the direction of big data technology.

It is interesting how one word – cookies can mean different things. In the modern world of IT technology, you will think first regarding cookies, not as homemade fresh sweet things made by granny; you will imagine something that helps you not insert everyday passwords on different websites. The natural history of the name “cookies” is unknown; one of the legends is that it came from magic cookies – a data package sent back and forward without changes.

Cookies are commonly used on the Internet since 1994; of course, they are used for different purposes, such as retargeted advertising. Let’s find out the most common.

What are cookies? How they track the user?

Cookies are some data stored (in text file format txt) on the user’s computer and used by web browsers during Internet surfing. Cookies can hold a lot of data, such as:

  • Data for user authentication (username, password)
  • User settings for the Internet (language, country of origin, currency, settings for webpages presentation, time zone, installed plugins, etc.)
  • Data for the latest opened resources on the Internet (sessions)
  • Data from search requests, including search in online shops
  • Data that was inserted (name, e-mail address, contact details)
  • User’s IP address and its location
  • Data regarding user’s PC or any other device to access Internet (Browser, PC type, Monitor, etc.)
  • General user’s statistics

Also, there are different types of cookies: temporary or permanent. This is determined by webpage developer, normally, when you open new Internet resource pop-up notification informs you regarding type of cookies. But some webpages collect your data without notification.

In general words, cookies were developed to personalize the user, provide the user the most exciting information upon his preferences, and track the overall user experience to give him target advertisements. Google, for example, does not hide that your preferences are used for advertising.

Described is the positive side of cookies, but on the other hand, cookies contain a lot of user personal information that can be used in dangerous ways.

Why can cookies be dangerous?

Cookies were designed as a storage of information; by themselves, they represent no harm and can’t interact with the user’s computer. The threat is if they are stolen to use your personal information to have access to your money or passport details. Additionally, according to their user agreement, such companies as Google can collect any data regarding the user. If you visit some websites and insert your name, after all, you can be easily tracked by cookies stored at Google.

In most cases, the websites are developed by skilled designers, and it is not possible to steal your password for the website through cookies as it is not stored there or written not in an obvious way. But there is a minor possibility for this as well.

Solutions to stop cookies tracking you

  1. In your browser, you have a choice to limit (you can reject the receipt of cookies up to your preference) or turn off all the cookies. Still, if you are not using them, it will be necessary to insert each time your account details, and the online shop will not remember your shopping cart. One of the solutions is simply clean cookies in your browser from time to time; also, you will clean a lot of GB that might be unnecessary. Every browser (Chrome, Mozilla, Opera. etc.) has a unique system of managing cookies. Standard procedures cannot delete some types of cookies – ever cookie- stored in several places.
  2. As servers and browsers constantly transfer back and forward coolies with confidential information, they can be stolen or changed on the way. This is quite a typical case for public Internet networks. Another solution to safe Internet surfing is using a special browser Orbita providing anonymous surfing – browser for multi-accounting. This browser offers the opportunity to manage your cookies and determine the rules with more than 50 connection characteristics. The solution will be helpful even for those users having several separated profiles. Such a browser (or any other one with the same purpose) will benefit e-commerce, betting, marketing, and other areas. The browser also protects from phishing attempts and allows to turn off the advertisement.
  3.  Turn on incognito mode in your browser. Such mode automatically allows all cookies with the closure of websites; in this mode, all data inserted during the session will not be stored. But such modes do not provide complete protection, and personal information can still be stolen through some temporary cookies created without notification of the user. Option 2 is safer. Some websites do not work correctly without cookies.

The first three options are the easiest ones, but there are more solutions for more advanced users.

  1. Installation of special plugins. Plugins additionally insert specific symbols in text files of cookies, making decoding more difficult. Always check information about the plugin before its installation.
  2. Usage of VPN. The additional network above the Internet with additional features and protection.

In 2011, EC decided that the storage of cookies should be allowed only after official notification of the user; this is why pop-up windows are used on the websites, but fees or penalties are not expected for the Owners who do not follow the law. One of the most famous cases is that Vueling was charged 30 000 Euro for not provisioning information regarding cookies usage. So, this law is not practical; the only positive thing from it, that websites reduced the overall number of cookies (for about 20%). Personal information safety is still subject to user awareness and proactive actions; always read disclaimers and pop-up notifications regarding cookies on every website.

Interestingly, cookies are used for social scoring and checking the reliability of web resources in China. Such a mechanism can affect the decision on the provision of credit or insurance to the people. That is an additional reason why it is essential to track your cookies and stop the possibility of other people using them.

Sean Parker
Sean Parker is an entrepreneur and content marketer with over 5 years of experience in SEO, Creative Writing and Digital Marketing with Rank Media. He has worked with several clients from all over the globe to offer his services in various domains with a proven track record of success.