Cookies—what could be wrong with such deliciousness? Well, even a certain monster on Sesame Street is less into gluten these days. Maybe that’s because his beloved snack food had its name co-opted back in the 1990s by the little data files that websites use to improve your experience…and track your activity.
Cookies get stored on your computer when you use a web browser. The cookie file gets read by the server on the other end of the connection. Most of the time, cookies are a good thing—without authentication cookies, you’d constantly be entering usernames and passwords as you visit websites, over and over, on every page. Cookies also make it possible for online shopping carts to work without losing all your items before purchase.
But, cookies can also be used to track you. When you visit a site, you may not get a cookie from just the server for that site, but also a tracking cookie from the advertisers on that site—that’s called a third-party cookie. Those can be used to look at where you’re going whenever you visit a new website—tracking your moves, so to speak. This has long had privacy advocates up in arms, even though cookies typically do not collect any personalized information. They’re bad enough that Mozilla is blocking them by default in Firefox, and Google claims it’ll phase them out entirely in a couple of years from the Chrome browser.