How cookies and tracking technologies work on websites

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Tracking cookies is like little spies on websites. They help advertisers and marketers by collecting personal information about you when you visit a site. Then, they use this information to show you ads and content that match your interests and what you’ve been looking at online.

But, some people worry about their privacy because of tracking cookies. They’re concerned that companies are snooping on them without permission. Because of this, many countries have made strict rules to protect people’s privacy online.

In this blog, we’ll explain what tracking cookies are and give you tips on how to keep your online activities private. We’ll show you how to delete or block tracking cookies so you can browse the web without feeling like you’re being watched.

So, let’s get started and learn more about tracking cookies!

What are Tracking Cookies?

Tracking cookies are small text files that websites place on a user’s browser to collect data and track their activities. These cookies track users’ activity and process this information to help websites show personalised recommendations and targeted ads.

Tracking cookies collect information such as shopping preferences, device specifications, location, and browsing behaviour. This information is used for gathering website analytics and showing targeted advertisements.

What are the different types of Tracking Cookies?

Tracking cookies come in two main types: first-party tracking cookies and third-party tracking cookies.

First-party tracking cookies: These are cookies that the website you’re visiting sets on your browser. They’re used by the website owner to keep track of what you do on their site. This helps them understand your behaviour, preferences, and how you interact with their content. It also gives them data on things like clicks, views, and how long you stay on certain pages.

Third-party tracking cookies: These cookies are set by third-party services, not the website you’re on. They’re often used by advertisers, marketers, and other external services that provide things like ads or social media buttons on websites.

Websites sometimes use resources from third-party providers, like social media widgets or analytics tools. These resources are loaded onto the website using code provided by the third-party service. When you visit the website, your browser also loads these external resources, which can then set third-party cookies.

The Functionality of Tracking Cookies

Tracking cookies works by giving each user’s web browser a special ID while they browse the internet. These IDs are made up of letters and numbers and are created by the hosting websites or third-party affiliates.

When someone first visits a website that uses cookies, the site sends a cookie to their browser, which then saves it on their device. When they come back to the website later, their browser sends the cookie back to the site’s server.

This helps websites recognise when someone comes back, keep track of what they do on the site, and gather information like what pages they visit, their preferences, and how they interact with the site.

The Spectrum of Data Collected by Tracking Cookies

Tracking cookies are designed to gather a range of information from website visitors to customise content, enhance the user experience, and support targeted advertising.

The data collected includes:

  • Browsing history: Information on the user’s visited websites, specific pages accessed, and the length of each visit.
  • Preferences: Data on user preferences like language settings and preferred font sizes.
  • IP address: The user’s IP address, offering insights into their approximate location and internet service provider.
  • Interactions: Observations of user interactions with websites, including clicks, scrolling behaviour, and form submissions.
  • Shopping history: Documentation of the user’s online shopping behaviour, such as viewed products, cart additions, and historical purchases.
  • Device specifications: Information about the user’s device, including the type, operating system, screen resolution, and browser version.

Exploring the Applications of Tracking Cookies

Let’s delve into the various ways in which websites harness tracking cookies.

Tailored Content Delivery

Websites use tracking cookies to show you content that matches what you like. For example, on shopping sites, they suggest products you might want to buy based on what you’ve looked at before. Or on streaming sites, they recommend movies or shows similar to what you’ve watched.

Facilitating User Recognition

Tracking cookies help websites know when you’ve been there before. This makes logging in easier because the site remembers you.

Opting for options like “Remember Me” or “Stay logged in” during login prompts the website to store your credentials within a cookie. This ensures that on your next visit, the website can automatically authenticate you without the need to input your login details again.

Enhancing Website Analytics

Websites use tracking cookies to see how people use their site. They collect data like what pages you visit, how long you stay, and what you click on. This helps website owners understand what works and what doesn’t, so they can make their sites better. This data, encompassing aspects such as user engagement, navigational trends, and heatmaps, empowers website owners to refine their platforms, ultimately elevating the overall user experience.

Targeted Ads

Even though some people don’t like it, websites use tracking cookies to show you ads tailored to your interests. These cookies keep track of what you do online, like what sites you visit and what you search for. Advertisers can then serve personalised ads that align with users’ interests, demographics, and browsing patterns, potentially enhancing ad engagement and conversion rates.

Strategies for Remarketing

Remarketing campaigns are another strategic use of tracking cookies. They enable websites to reconnect with visitors who have engaged with the site but stopped short of completing an action, such as a purchase. By presenting these individuals with pertinent ads, businesses aim to motivate them to revisit and finalise their transactions.

Enhancing User Experience through Customisation

Tracking cookies play a significant role in tailoring the user experience. They adjust website content and features to suit individual users’ locations, device types, and language preferences, ensuring a more personalised and seamless interaction. This customisation can manifest in various forms, from localised content presentation to device-specific website layouts and language translations.

Assessing the Safety of Tracking Cookies

While tracking cookies might not seem dangerous, they raise big worries about privacy. Have you ever noticed ads on social media that seem to know exactly what you’ve been searching for online? That can make people uneasy about their privacy. 

Tracking cookies are really good at creating digital profiles based on what you do online. This means they can figure out who you are. They can also store information about you, which could put your privacy and security at risk.

But, if used carefully, tracking cookies can be helpful for both website owners and visitors. They help websites show personalised suggestions and gather important data. Plus, they make the user experience better by customising content based on what users like and making it easier to stay logged in.

Google’s Stance on Tracking Cookies 

Google is getting rid of third-party cookies because they can track you online, which raises privacy concerns. Instead, Google is working on a new way to keep your data private through its Privacy Sandbox project.

Starting on January 4, 2024, Google introduced a feature called Tracking Protection for some Chrome users (1% of them). This feature limits third-party cookies. It’s like a test run to help websites and developers adjust before all third-party cookies are gone.

By the third quarter of 2024 (around July to September), Google plans to remove third-party cookies for everyone who uses Chrome.

This change will shake up online advertising. Advertisers won’t be able to track users as easily for personalised ads. Websites that rely on third-party cookies for money or how they work will have to find new ways to make things work