Treat or threat?: An explainer on website cookies and what you’re accepting

Published Jun 20, 2024


By Lethiwe Nhlangothi

Internet or website cookies are similar to fortune cookies because they contain small pieces of information that are telling.

These digital treats are a part of the Internet and can’t always be escaped. When you accept website cookies, you’re giving permission for websites to store bits of information on your computer or device, which help these websites remember things about you, such as your login details, language preferences, and items in your shopping cart.

They can also track what pages you visit and how you interact with the website. This information is used to enhance your online experience by customising content to match your interests and simplifying your browsing experience.

However, it also means that your online activities can be tracked across different websites. While most cookies are harmless and improve your browsing experience, it's important to be aware of how they're used and to decide whether you're comfortable with this kind of tracking. Here are some privacy and security concerns that cookies may bring:

  • Websites share the information collected from their cookies to third-parties like advertisers
  • Unsecured websites use cookies to steal and can compromise your sensitive information
  • Software used to gain unauthorised access to a computer system (malware) can be disguised as cookies to access your data.

It’s important to note that cookies vary in their functions. Some are placed by the websites you visit (first parties) to enhance navigation, store preferences, and manage shopping carts. Meanwhile, others are placed by third parties like advertisers.

Unfortunately, completely disabling website cookies can be a bit challenging because some websites require you to accept them in order to access their content. Many web browsers allow you to manage cookies. There are things you can do to protect your information from being maliciously used:

  • Instead of immediately choosing “accept all cookies” when a website asks you to, look for the “accept all necessary cookies” option
  • To protect yourself from unsecured websites, delete previous cookies from your browser
  • Ensure the websites requesting cookies use “https” domain and include a padlock icon in front of the URL, which indicates that the website is secured
  • If possible, always try blocking or disabling the use of cookies

Being aware of malicious website cookies is essential for protecting your personal information and staying safe online.

By understanding the risks they pose and taking steps to manage the sites’ cookie intake wisely, you can reduce the chances of unauthorised tracking and potential cyber threats.

Stay informed and proactive to ensure your online activities remain secure, controlled and your privacy intact.