What actually are cookies?

A website development agency

It seems that on almost every website we visit we’re faced with the ubiquitous cookie based statement; ‘By continuing to browse, you consent to us saving cookies on your device’ or words to that effect. But, what actually are these cookies that we blindly open our online door to?

The basics

Put very simply, cookies are little snippets of data held in tiny files on your computer that a web server can create and access. The information held in these files means that the server in question can tailor a page, or part of a page to you, based on the basic information held within.

Your information will normally be stored in a cookie when a new webpage is loaded. Subsequent pages will then identify that info by running script that reads the data in the cookie. This means a certain amount of your data will be transferred between pages on a website, or onto related sites.

A lot of the time, the data in cookies act like keys to a larger wealth of information, if it stores, for example, a username and password. Normally, once you leave a website, or sometimes a little afterwards, the cookie will be destroyed and you’ll have to start the whole user journey again.

So, are cookies the good guys?

Some would have us believe that standard cookies are a Machiavellian instrument of corporate snooping, designed to track our online actions, gather our data and feed us into the marketing machine. But in reality, they’re small, innocuous scraps of data that exist to help us along the way, and make the user experience much smoother than it would otherwise be.


Darth Vader loves Cookies

They only store information that we make available, they don’t last long, and they can only be stored by the server in question. Looking at this from the perspective of a topical film, people will often see cookies as tools of the Galactic Empire, but they’re really more like Ewoks (apologies if you haven’t seen Star Wars, but you should try and give it a watch over the holidays).

Tracking cookies – the anti-hero

Another type of cookie, which works in a similar way to the standard cookie, but concerns people a lot more, is the tracking cookie. This little critter tends to feature on bigger commercial websites. It works by storing pertinent information, like previous products viewed, and then making that data readable on a network of external sites.

These sites tend to have the same advertising provider, Google’s Display Network being the most obvious example, and use cookies in a process known as remarketing. In some cases this can feel intrusive, and give a bad name to what is otherwise a very helpful little file. However, with such a connected world, some consider that there is no harm in being sold things that you have already displayed an interest in, but that reaction is entirely personal and subjective.

So, there you have it, a very quick look at cookies. There’s every chance that you stumbled upon this article in an effort to find recipes for your favourite festive treat. If that’s the case, we at Tigerfish would hate to disappoint, so enjoy!