Cookies are an important tool that can give businesses a great deal of insight into their users’ online activity.
Cookies are small text files that websites place on your device as you are browsing. They are processed and stored by your web browser. In and of themselves, cookies are harmless and serve crucial functions for websites. Cookies can also generally be easily viewed and deleted.
However, cookies can store a wealth of data, enough to potentially identify you without your consent. Cookies are the primary tool that advertisers use to track your online activity so that they can target you with highly specific ads. Given the amount of data that cookies can contain, they can be considered personal data in certain circumstances and, therefore, subject to the GDPR.
Types of Cookies
In general, there are three different ways to classify cookies: what purpose they serve, how long they endure, and their origin.
- Session cookies: These cookies are temporary and expire once you close your browser (or once your session ends).
- Persistent cookie: This category encompasses all cookies that remain on your hard drive until you erase them or your browser does, depending on the cookie’s expiration date. All persistent cookies have an expiration date written into their code, but their duration can vary.
- First-party cookies: As the name implies, first-party cookies are put on your device directly by the website you are visiting.
- Third-party cookies: These are the cookies that are placed on your device, not by the website you are visiting, but by a third party like an advertiser or an analytic system.
- Strictly necessary cookies: These cookies are essential for you to browse the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the site. Cookies that allow web shops to hold your items in your cart while you are shopping online are an example of strictly necessary cookies. These cookies will generally be first-party session cookies. It is not required to obtain consent for these cookies.
- Preferences cookies: Also known as “functionality cookies,” these cookies allow a website to remember choices you have made in the past, like what language you prefer, what region you would like weather reports for, or what your user name and password are so you can automatically log in.
- Statistics cookies: Also known as “performance cookies,” these cookies collect information about how you use a website, like which pages you visited and which links you clicked on. None of this information can be used to identify you. It is all aggregated and, therefore, anonymized. Their sole purpose is to improve website functions. This includes cookies from third-party analytics services as long as the cookies are for the exclusive use of the owner of the website visited.
- Marketing cookies: These cookies track your online activity to help advertisers deliver more relevant advertising or to limit how many times you see an ad. These cookies can share that information with other organizations or advertisers. These are persistent cookies and almost always of third-party provenance.