Skip to main content


What Is a Cookie?

A cookie is a data packet a website sends to a visitor’s browser.

Cookies are a way for websites to remember user information (like items they added to their shopping cart) or record browsing activity, including clicking specific buttons or pages visited in the past. They can also be used to remember information the user entered into form fields before, such as names, passwords, and credit card numbers.

Cookies play a significant role in the online experience, aiding in navigation, personalization, website functionality, advertising, and tracking user behavior. 

However, cookies also raise privacy concerns because they track users’ browsing activities. These concerns have led to increased regulation and consent requirements in various jurisdictions.

Third-party definition 

A cookie is a small piece of data that a website (the server) places on your device (the client). The exact meaning of cookie contents is specific to each website. In some cases these are benign, and required for the site or app to function (e.g. to know you put an item in a shopping cart). In other cases, cookies can be used to track your browsing activity, search history, and to follow you across the Web. Note that the term “cookie” is used in two different ways: to describe a specific way of setting values on browsers; and as a general term for all ways sites can store values on clients. – Brave

Cookie Functions

Depending on their type (more on that below), cookies can be used for: 

  • Authentication and session management. Cookies help websites recognize if a user is logged in and with what account. They are crucial for keeping users logged in as they navigate a website.
  • Personalization. Websites use cookies to remember user settings (language, font size, etc.) and preferences (location, behavior, etc.) to provide a more personalized experience.
  • Tracking and Analytics. Cookies gather data about how users interact with a website – what pages they visit, what they click on, etc. This information helps website owners understand user behavior and improve the website.
  • Advertising. Advertisers use cookies to collect information about user’s browsing habits, enabling them to display personalized ads that are more likely to be relevant to the users.

Types of Cookies

There are different kinds of cookies based on their purpose and longevity. 

Session cookies, for example, only last for the duration of your browsing session and are automatically deleted when you close your browser. They’re essential for functionalities like keeping items in your shopping cart while browsing an online store. 

Persistent cookies continue to exist on your device for a predefined period even after you close the browser. They are used for remembering your preferences and actions over time, such as login details or language settings.

Cookies can also be categorized based on who sets them. 

First-party cookies are placed by the site you’re visiting and are generally used to remember your settings and preferences on that site. 

Third-party cookies are set by a domain other than the one you’re visiting. They are often used by advertisers and data brokers to track your browsing habits across multiple sites for targeted advertising or to gather data on website usage.

Privacy Concerns Around Cookies

Cookies are central to how modern websites function, but they also raise privacy concerns, especially third-party cookies used for tracking and advertising. 

Third-party cookies can collect a ton of information about your browsing activity. At the same time, users may not be aware they are being tracked or understand the extent of the data being collected. 

Consequently, privacy laws and regulations like the GDPR in Europe have put more stringent rules around their use, requiring websites to obtain explicit user consent for certain types of cookies.

Major web browsers are also moving away from third-party cookies. 

For example, Firefox, Safari, and Brave block trackers, including third-party cookies by default. Google is likewise planning on phasing out third-party cookies in 2024. 

Controlling Cookies for Privacy 

To improve your privacy, go to your browser’s settings to see how third-party cookies are handled. If they’re turned off by default, great! If not, block them. 

You can also download anti-tracking extensions. Just make sure they come from reputable sources. As an added precaution, see what permissions the extensions you’re thinking of downloading request from you. 

Regularly clearing cookies can stop the build-up of your browsing history. You can do this through your browser’s settings. Note that doing so will delete data from your device, potentially making your experience a bit more annoying (for example, you’ll need to re-enter passwords and update settings). 

In Chrome, go to “Settings” and “Cookies and site permissions.” Click “Cookies and site data” and “Remove all.” 

In Firefox, go to “Settings” and “Privacy & Security.” Under “Cookies and Site Data,” click “Clear Data.”

In Brave, go to “Settings” and “Privacy and Security.” Click “Clear browsing data.”