A cookie is a small file containing a string of characters that is sent to your computer, lap-top, mobile, tablet etc by a script on a website when you visit it. The cookie helps the website understand how to provide the right service for you or to make the website work better. It is stored in the browser you are using (Firefox, IE, Opera, Safari, Chrome etc)
When you visit the website again, the cookie allows that site to recognize your browser. Cookies may store user preferences and other information. Cookies pose no risk since they do not contain any code – so can’t act as a virus in any form or spy on your PC content to compromise security.
You can set your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being stored. However, some website features or services may not function properly without cookies.
The most widely used cookie use is for Google Analytics scripts which a great number of websites use to get statistics about visitor numbers and behaviour. Google says “Like many services, Google Analytics uses first-party cookies to track visitor interactions. These cookies are used to store information, such as what time the current visit occurred, whether the visitor has been to the site before, and what site referred the visitor to the web page. Browsers do not share first-party cookies across domains." Google Analytics doesn’t do anything to identify you personally.
Other uses for cookies are to store your preferences e.g. language, location, currency. The website puts a cookie on your browser and next time you go to that website you won’t have to make the selections again. they can also store your user name and password (encrypted of course). So if the site (rather than your browser) asks “Save your log-in info?” it will be using a cookie.
Some cookies are just used for the duration of your web visit and are deleted as soon as you close the browser, navigate to another site or leave the page open for more than a few minutes.
These are all “first party” cookies - set by the website you are interacting with. However websites are often made up from various sources from different domains, e.g. weather report, news feed, an advertising network or a streaming video service like YouTube, this third party may read and write their own cookies or similar technologies onto visitors devices and these are called “third party” cookies.
Cookies are stored by the browser you are using, so you need to check out each browser you use.
similar for other browsers.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued changes to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations which take effect on 26th May and UK websites have to comply. See the ICO site http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_organisations/privacy_and_electronic_communications
It’s not clear how the proposals can be implemented without too much intrusion into the operation of the website - especially where a web page delivered to the end user is served from several domains. These things will be worked out in time or maybe just go away. The general view is that if you’re just using cookies for Analytics it’s OK to post a notice or a link to a notice at the top of the page explaining that’s what you’re doing. This could be done as part of the website privacy statement, terms and conditions, copyright statements etc.
As a minimum
The ICO offer some suggestions on http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_organisations/privacy_and_electronic_communications/the_guide/cookies.aspx
There are various scripts being developed to address this and I will update this section when I’ve had a chance to review some of them.
If you need any help please call me.