What are cookies? Some quick mythbusting

“This website uses cookies.”

You’ve come across this message many times while surfing the web. Actually, we deal with browser cookies (sometimes without knowing it) way more often than we have real cookies with our morning coffee.

Cookies are an essential part of our browsing experience, but not everyone knows what they are exactly. And, there are misconceptions surrounding them, like potential privacy threats.

This 2-part series aims to set the record straight about cookie basics. Let’s begin with some mythbusting.

What are cookies

So, what are cookies?

Cookies, also called web cookies, internet cookies, browser cookies or computer cookies, are tiny text files with some website-specific info saved to your computer. If you revisit the same site, cookies help it to remember some of your preferences.

Why are websites setting cookies? What info do they store?

Here are examples of some common scenarios:

  • When you fill a form on a website, you don’t have to enter the same details again with the next visit, thanks to a cookie, which stores them on your computer.
  • When you shop online, cookies store info as you put items in the shopping cart, so that you can pay for them all at once.
  • If you chose a specific language in which you want to view a website,  a cookie can remember this preference for subsequent sessions.

Common types of cookies

There are quite a few types of cookies. We won’t go into too much detail about each of them, but these are two of the most common groups:

  • Session cookies are temporary files that are erased from your computer when you close your browser window.
  • Persistent cookies (also called permanent) stay on your computer until a fixed expiration date – for example, for a year.

Are cookies safe? 

The idea that cookies are potentially malware is a common misconception. The truth is that cookies can’t install a virus to your computer, because they’re just text files.

What about privacy? Well, a cookie can’t really “steal” your info – it just stores what you choose to let a website know about you. However, it’s quite common for some online advertisers to use cookies for tracking your browsing behavior and then show you some tailored ads. Often it works through third-party cookies – i.e., set by a website different from what you’re viewing.

Should I disable cookies?

Considering the above mentioned, instead of disabling cookies entirely (which we wouldn’t recommend), consider blocking only third-party cookies. If you’re still concerned about privacy, it’s a good idea to  read a website’s policy before accepting cookies from it.

As a secure browser that cares about your privacy, Opera gives you the flexibility to enable or block cookies with a couple of clicks, set website-specific preferences and block third-party cookies. Check this more detailed guide on how to manage cookies in Opera, or go to our Help page to get some quick instructions.

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