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Why Computer Cookies Are Called Cookies – Uncover the History

Do you ever wonder why computer cookies are called cookies?  It’s a legitimate question to ask, considering that we’re talking about computers here, and not your favorite treat or snack to eat.

In this article, we’ll look at the history of computer cookies and try to understand why they were given the name ‘cookie’.  We’ll also explore some of the different types of computer cookies and how they can affect our online experience.

Once you’ve learned all about computer cookies, you’ll know what’s their purpose, and whether you need to worry when websites say they use cookies to enhance your experience.

So let’s see what computer cookies are all about.

What Are Cookies?

The term “cookie” was first used to describe small pieces of data stored on web servers back in 1994, by tech expert Lou Montulli.  He came up with the idea while working at Netscape (remember them?) to help websites to remember visitors.

The inspiration came from a fortune cookie.  He liked what the fortune cookie represented, a snack that contains a snippet of advice or instruction inside.  Just like fortune cookies, computer cookies often contain helpful information which helps websites remember important details about you, such as your preferences or login information.

Many moons later, websites are still using cookies today to remember users.

How the whole process works are websites that use cookies stores some small text files on the user’s computer after visiting the site.  This is done using the web browser that you’re using.  In most cases, the files are harmless, unless it’s from a sketchy website, in which case you don’t want to visit.

What this does essentially, is allow websites to remember users for future visits to that same site.  Most of the websites that use cookies will notify you that it uses.  If you’re on the internet, visiting different websites, chances are you have seen a few of these notifications already.

Origin of The Name

Cookie itself was derived from the term “magic cookies”, which had a completely different meaning.  So after, Montulli developed the code script for what we now call cookie, he chose the name because he thought it would be easier for people to remember than a complex technical term.




Types of Cookies (Computer Cookies)

Types of Cookies - Why Computer Cookies Are Called Cookies

Now that we have defined what computer cookies are, now let’s dive in and discover the different types that are available and what that means for you.  This is was actually to my surprise as well, that there are several different types of cookies, all serving different purposes.

So we’re going to do through each one, and describe their purpose.

Session Cookie

This type of cookie only lasts for as long as your browsing session – once you close your browser window, it disappears.  Session cookies typically store information such as which items are in your online shopping cart or whether you’re logged into a website.

They’re also called transient cookies because they last for such a short time.

Persistent Cookie

Next on our list is the persistent cookie.  Unlike session cookies, these little guys stick around even after you close your browser window.  They’re useful for keeping track of user preferences and settings over time.

For example, if you prefer to view a certain website in dark mode every time you visit, a persistent cookie will remember that choice for future visits, and present the site to you in dark mode.  Because they’re so useful in keeping track of user preferences, they’re sometimes called tracking cookies.

First-Party Cookie

These cookies are generated by default on the website that you visit directly and stored on your computer’s browser cache.

Site owners use first-party cookies to track user interactions, such as which pages were visited, their preferred settings, or even their location.  They also enable website customization based on user preferences like language settings or location data.

Third-Party Cookie

Third-party cookies are small files stored in your computer system by websites other than the one you’re currently visiting.  Think of ads on a website, or even embedded videos.

They help advertisers track your online behavior, enabling them to present targeted ads that align with your interests.  Retargeting marketing methods use third-party cookies to get their information in front of you everywhere on the web.

The main difference here between first-party cookies and third-party cookies is that first-party cookies are created by the website you visit, they store user login data and preferences like language, region, or currency.

On the other hand, third-party cookies are created by other entities using that website.  There are also second-party cookies that are not talked about much, but it is essentially when two different parties use each other’s first-party cookie to use as a suitable accommodation for the user.  So, second-party cookies don’t really stand alone on their own, it’s just sharing of first-party data.

Secure Cookie

When it comes to security, this cookie stands out from the rest.

Secure cookies are encrypted versions of regular HTTP cookies that can only be transmitted over an HTTPS connection.  This means that any sensitive information stored in the cookie (such as login credentials) will remain protected from malicious attacks by hackers or other third-party entities.

This is an effective way to tell if a particular website is secure or not.  Just look for the “S” in HTTPS followed by the website’s URL.

There are other types of cookies, but those are just combinations of the main ones that you see listed here.



Benefits of Cookies

Benefits of cookies - Why are Computer Cookies called Cookies

There are several benefits of cookies that we’re going to discuss here in this section.  There are some misconceptions about cookies and that they do more harm than good.  So we’re going to clear up some of those misconceptions by going over the many benefits to you.

  1. Personalization: Cookies allow websites to remember your preferences, such as language settings or font size, providing a personalized experience every time you visit.  This can go a long way in keeping you a loyal visitor to that site because your settings and preferences stay intact.
  2. Efficiency: With cookies, web pages load faster because they don’t have to retrieve information from scratch each time you visit a site.
  3. Analytics: Websites can use cookies to track user behavior and collect data on how their site is being used.  This helps them make improvements for a better overall user experience.  This is more for the developers than it is for the users.  But in the end, it ultimately benefits the user.
  4. User Convenience:  In addition to remembering websites, cookies can also remember forms that you have filled out in the past, and can help you fill out future forms much faster with the autofill feature.

Potential Risks

Computer cookie risks - why are computer cookies called cookies

OK, let’s get to the bad stuff with cookies.  I know that’s what most people want to hear, they want you to give them the dirt.  It’s important to understand, however, that cookies themselves aren’t inherently bad, it’s what people who are “bad” can do with them.

But here are some potential risks that you should consider regarding cookies:

  1. Privacy Issues: Some cookies can track your movements across different websites without your consent or knowledge.  This kind of unauthorized tracking raises concerns about online privacy.
  2. Security Concerns: There’s always the possibility of hackers intercepting cookie data and using it for their own purposes such as identity theft or phishing scams.  This is what I was alluding to earlier.  Cookie files aren’t bad, it’s when a hacker compromises your computer’s security and can gain access to this information.  So ensure that you have anti-virus software installed to keep your systems protected in real time.

Removing Cookies From Your Computer

This process is done within the browser itself.  I’ll provide some instructions on how to do so using Google Chrome since it’s one of the most used Internet browsers worldwide.

  • Open Chrome and look in the upper right for the 3 dots.  It’s usually right next to your profile photo.
  • Click those 3 dots and select Settings.
  • Click on Privacy and Security.
  • Then click Cookies and Other Site Data.
  • Click See all site data and permissions.
  • Finally, click the Clear all data button.

Doing this will clear all data cookies stored on your computer.  Here’s a video, showing how to remove cookies using Microsft Edge.

 

Conclusion

So hopefully you have learned more about why computer cookies are called cookies, and what cookies are used for.  We’ve discovered that there are several types of cookies used for different purposes and that cookies are more beneficial than they are harmful.

We just have to take caution that our computer systems aren’t intruded upon by a hacker, who can get access to these files and do potential harm with that information. To prevent this, make sure you have third-party antivirus software installed.

Although having cookies stored on your computer helps websites remember you and the settings you may have set, if you prefer not to have them on your computer at all, you can always remove them from your computer via your web browser.

Just keep in mind that cookies help you to browse websites easier and much faster.


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computer cookies, Cookies, Web browser, webpages, Website, world wide web


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