What cookies are and how they are used

We are being asked to allow or deny access to cookies on nearly every website we visit. Read on to learn what cookies are and how they are used.

Ever since the European Union passed the GDPR, websites have been asking us to allow cookies. Even the SDM website does this. What does it mean, and should we allow them? It helps if we start by explaining what they are.

What are cookies?

Cookies are very small text files located in your browser. They are created by the websites that you visit as well as some related websites.

You can view them in your browser in the Preferences or Settings for the browser. This example is in the Chrome browser, but the process will be very similar in any other browser.

Select to view your cookies.

Then select one set of cookies to view.

As you can see, the cookie itself is a very small text files. The text itself isn’t meaningful to anyone other than the website it is related to.

You can delete any cookies in your browser easily. This is also in the settings or preferences section of your browser.

In Chrome there is both a Basic process for clearing out the browser.

As well as a more advanced process.

Should I allow them?

Now that you know what cookies are, the real question is whether to allow them.

Let’s review what a company might use them for on their website.

Simple website

For a simple website that isn’t selling products or advertising, like the SDM website, this information is still very useful. Cookies allow us to see which pages of our website are most popular. We can also see how people get to our website, such as from our newsletter, through a web search, or by typing in our URL. We can tell how people are using our website, so that we can make useful information more prominent, and perhaps make the navigation a little simpler. All of this information is useful to us in an anonymized, aggregated fashion. We aren’t tracking any one visitor.

Commerce website

For a website that sells products, this kind of information can be used to keep track of what you put into your shopping cart. It can also allow you to save preferences such as your size or viewing preferences.

Cookies can also be used to keep track of things you have done, searched for and clicked on. Sometimes this information is used in order to provide you will information and ads that might be most useful to you.

Because cookies are stored on your own computer, and not on the website’s computer, they can be easily deleted if you feel they are causing a problem for you.

Cookies can store your log in information such as when you click on a box that says keep me logged in. This is different than saving passwords in a password manager or in your browser. In the first instance, it is the website itself that is retaining your log in state. In the latter instance, it is the operating system, browser or password manager that is saving your user name and password.

Some websites simply won’t work without cookies, and if you choose to turn off cookies or decline them, you will not be able to use the site.

Summary

Here is Google’s explanation of their use of cookies.

Armed with this new understanding, we hope it is easier to decide when you should allow cookies to be stored. You will also be able to clear them out periodically if that is important to you.

If you would like help with this process, just call or email and we’ll be happy to assist you! If you have specific questions, or if our terminology isn’t clear, please use our contact form to send us a message. Thank you!

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