Are cookies dangerous? Should they be blocked?

Cookies have a bad reputation and some people regard them as evil and to be avoided at all costs. It is said that they are malware, spyware and evil. Are they really? Should Safari be set to block them?

What is a cookie?

Many websites perform quite complicated functions and cookies are a way for them to save bits of information that they need to function, or to make your life simpler.

A lot of websites allow you to create an account and to log in. In fact, some websites require it, like Google Mail, Microsoft OneDrive, Amazon store, to mention just three.

These sites have user names and passwords that are required to log in. Some websites have preferences so you can customise them a little. Some sites, like online stores, know your history, likes and dislikes, your favourite sections, products or services.

This information must be stored somewhere and it can be stored in a cookie, which is a small file on the computer’s disk. When you visit a website, it reads the contents of its cookie and then it knows who you are, what your preferences are and so on. It can even enable you to log in more quickly and easily by remembering your user name and password.

It is up to websites what they store in their cookie and they can access only their own cookie and not a cookie created by another website.

Cookies can therefore be very useful for storing account information for the websites you visit.

Cookies can also be created by advertisers and if the advertiser is on many websites, they might be able to tell which ones you have visited by examining the information stored in their cookie. They can also store details like the adverts you have seen or what they think your interests are so they can select an advert they think you might be interested in.

Dangerous cookies?

It is this advertiser tracking and user profiling that has given cookies their bad reputation. Cookies are not dangerous and they cannot damage the computer, infect you with malware, empty your bank account, or reveal secret information about you.

Normal website usage of cookies is actually a benefit, but the way that advertisers use them could be regarded as an invasion of privacy. The dangers of cookies are overstated, but you do lose some privacy because advertisers know which website you are visiting.

Is it important that you hide your activities from advertisers? Some people do not care. So what if an advertiser knows I watch YouTube videos, spend time on Facebook, and which sports team I follow. Does it matter?

Safari cookie settings

All web browsers have cookie settings that enable you to allow them, block them, and sometimes selectively allow some and block others. Safari is no exception.

The first option is to always block cookies. This provides the maximum privacy, but some websites do not work with this setting. It is best not to use it.

The last option is Always allow and this lets anyone and everyone create cookies on your computer. It is the least private and is also best avoided unless you really don’t care.

This leaves the other two options.

Some web pages contain content from other websites. A good example of this that you have probably come across many times before is YouTube videos. You can view YouTube videos on the YouTube website, but sometimes people embed them in their own web page. A news site, a singer, a movie site, and others can all include YouTube videos on their pages.

This means that a website can contain content from elsewhere, third parties in other words. It’s not just YouTube, that is just one example, and there are other types of content that can be embedded, such as adverts.

The third Safari option, Allow from websites I visit, allows cookies from the website you are currently on, but not from third party content. This will block cookies from advertisers that host their adverts elsewhere on ad servers, but it might possibly block some useful third party content that requires cookies.

For this reason, there is another setting, Allow from websites I visit. Let’s take the example of some third party content embedded in a web page. If you have visited the third party website then the cookie will be allowed, but if you have never been there before then it won’t.

So if there is a YouTube video on a web page, then YouTube could create/read a cookie because you often go to the YouTube website. If you have never visited the YouTube website then the cookie would not be allowed.

This third setting blocks some unwanted cookies, mainly from advertisers, but it allows cookies from websites you visit. It offers the greatest compatibility while offering some privacy.

So to answer the question in the title, no cookies are not dangerous. Some, but not all, can safely be blocked without loss of website fnctionality.

 

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