Informed Choices - Because Privacy Is More Than Just A Policy

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Cookie Myths

There is a lot of talk about cookies and the privacy implications they carry. Much of this, whilst based in truth, has become distorted in the search for more frightening news articles.  Cookies are simply text files containing one or two lines of text - usually nothing more than a reference number.

This reference number doesn't contain any personally identifiable information about the user but does allow tracking companies to use this reference number to correlate a users browsing activities across the web and either tailor adverts to your perceived tastes or change aspects of an online offer based on predetermined criteria. For example, you might be shown adverts of cat food if you always search for cats online whilst another person might be charged a higher price for books or flights if their browsing activities suggest that they are in a higher income bracket.  Once a cookie is saved on your computer, only the web site that created the cookie can read it.

We discussed concerns about cookies with some of our clients and these are what they thought.

Cookies spy on my online activies

This is partially true as cookies can be used to build an online profile of your browsing activities.

Cookies contain viruses

Cookies do not contain viruses but you should always install and use an anti-virus and anti-malware system and keep it updated.

Cookies can see what I'm typing

No they can't.

Cookies send me spam

Cookies don't have access to your emails and cannot send you spam. You might see different adverts based on sites you have visited though.

Cookies can identity me personally

Cookies can identity a computer and not a person. Someone analysing the data could make a reasonable assumption about the person(s) using the computer but there is no personally identifiable data contained in a cookie unless it has been supplied by the user.  Cookies cannot access your email address or telephone number.

Blocking cookies makes more adverts appear.

This is true. Most adverts like popups or interstitials will set a cookie after appearing once so that users don't tire of seeing them and reducing their effectiveness. Deleting this cookie will cause these adverts to appear more frequently as they don't know if you have seen then or not.