What do cookies do?
Cookies do a number of different things, but all of it happens behind the scenes. If websites didn’t use them, you would find your website experience much less streamlined and less personal. For example, a website needing you to log-in wouldn’t be able to remember your details for next time (so you’d have to enter them every visit), and a shopping website would be unable to keep track of things like the items left in your basket.
Cookies have an important role and can be used for:
Session management allows websites to recognise specific users. When you log in to your account on the website, the web server sends a cookie to your browser, telling it to load your content rather than someone else’s. If a website welcomes you by name, it is using these cookies.
This also works when you open a separate tab for a page connected to the same website. When the browser requests the new page, a cookie is sent along with the request, telling the website that it is still you browsing.
Cookies can allow websites to remember your preferences. This lets them customise your experience with targeted content and adverts. Every time you visit the website, or parts of the website, the cookies being used can build up data unique to you. The website then uses this information to show adverts and content that will be more relevant to you (and therefore more likely to be clicked on by you).
Cookies can be used to track your previous searches and/or activity on the website. Not only does this allow the site to remember your saved baskets, it also lets the website recommend related products.
Tracking cookies can help linked third party websites run targeted adverts. If you had a type of clothing, like a jumper, in your basket on a shopping website, a linked third-party website may show you adverts for similar jumpers.
Tracking cookies can also be used for website analytics – by tracking how visitors use a website, the website owner can use this data to improve how the website works and the user experience. Google Analytics (GA) cookies are some of the most widely used analytics cookies set by websites.
However, there is a grey area when it comes to tracking cookies – some websites monitor how a visitor uses that website anonymously and without linking to the visitor’s identity; while others use tracking cookies in a way that links the visitor’s website use to their personal data (such as their email address, name, physical address or phone number).
There is further information below to help you decide which cookies you want to allow and how to refuse or block tracking cookies.