What’s the deal with internet cookies? How to clear cookies for good

It seems as if every website you navigate to is asking you to accept “third party cookies.” Should you accept third party internet cookies? If you do, are they selling your data and what does that mean to your privacy? How can you clear cookies for good? ClickAway weighs in on this sometimes annoying online experience.

internet cookies

What are internet cookies?

Internet cookies are pieces of data that are passed to your web browser when you visit certain sites. Isn’t it nice when you arrive at a website you’ve visited often and that website already knows your language preferences and login information? That’s all thanks to cookies. When you visit a site, this information is stored as a cookie.txt file. When you visit that website again, your browser sends this information back to the server so your experience will be customized based on the information you provided earlier.

Good and bad internet cookies

There are two types of cookies you need to know about: first party and third party cookies. Each different version uses the same type of file explained above, but the difference is in how the file is used. ClickAway has 5-7 cookies on our website. Most are Google analytic cookies that help us identify users and behavior on our website so we can continue to improve our pages and browsing experience. During this blog research, we found and removed 6 more cookies that were no longer relevant to us.

A second website, on the other extreme end of the cookie spectrum, is a popular political news site “Crooks and Liars.”  A first-time visitor would have an astounding 769 cookies from a boatload of different domains, mostly third-party cookies, many of which are presumably tracking cookies. We’re not providing the link for obvious reasons. 

There’s no “right number of cookies,” but you can expect that websites like Crooks and Liars, with extremely large numbers of cookies, are less likely to proactively protect data linked to their site visitors. Put simply: You’re much more likely to be subjected to invasive cookies on sites like this.

how to clear cookies

What will stop the third party cookie monster?

Third party internet cookies are used by ad companies to track you as you go around the internet. Most cookies on popular websites are safe, though many are used to serve you related ads. Google’s third-party cookies are on millions of websites, feeding the company a ton of information about the sites you visit, which generates part of its massive advertising revenues. But the public is becoming more aware of privacy issues these days, and regulators are passing more privacy laws.

Apple’s upcoming iOS 14 update will stop cross-app tracking, so iPhone users will at least have that privacy option within the next few months. In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a law on data protection and privacy that went into effect in 2018. It addresses the transfer of personal data outside the EU and EEA areas. Enforcement of The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) began on July 1, 2020, when the Attorney General of California started to issue violation notice letters to a ton of online businesses. Yes, that’s why us Californians now see cookie acceptance popups on nearly every site we visit. 

On May 3rd Google announced that third-party cookies are over — at least, as far as its ad networks and Chrome browser are concerned. It’s a phased approach that will finish completion in 2022. This announcement is drastically changing marketing methods as marketers adjust to the new normal. It doesn’t mean that Google will stop collecting your data, and it doesn’t mean the company will stop using your data to target ads. What Google will stop doing is selling web ads targeted to individual users’ browsing habits, and Google’s Chrome browser will no longer allow cookies that collect that data.

How to protect your privacy?

In order to enjoy some of the internet ease you’re going to have to put up with some cookies. It’s likely they’ll block you from seeing content until you accept third party cookies. One option is browsing in private mode. This is a special setting on your browser that automatically lets you browse with no stored cookies. When you exit the browser, none of your cookies will be saved so each time you open the browser in this mode it’s a fresh start. 

You can also mess with your security settings to get as strict as these websites allow. If you use several different browsers each one will have different settings. Each browser will have a different way to choose your privacy settings so you can limit how cookies are stored and used on your device. In most browsers in your security settings, you’ll have the option to block all third party cookies, allow cookies only from sites you’ve already visited or accept cookies. Some browsers, like Safari and Firefox are automatically blocking third-party cookies by default. Chrome, by default, deletes cookies after leaving a site. As stated above, this will change by the end of 2022.

How to clear cookies?

Remember, not all cookies are bad. The good ones enable us to return to a website without reentering passwords that we can’t remember anyways. Clearing these cookies will stop that. But going through the list of cookies on your laptop can be daunting. On my MacBook, for example, I had 1100 cookies stored, some from sites I visited years ago. But who wants to go through this list one by one?

On Chrome. Open Chrome. At the top right, click More. Click More tools and select Clear browsing data. At the top, choose a time range. To delete everything, select All time. Next to “Cookies and other site data” and “Cached images and files,” check the boxes. Click Clear data.

On Safari. Open Safari. Select “Preferences” from the dropdown Safari menu. Click on “Privacy,” then on “Manage Website Data.” Click on “Remove all” from the dropdown menu.

Questions can easily be answered during a free basic diagnostic at any ClickAway location. Still having concerns about internet cookies? Schedule a remote session with a ClickAway technician or drop in and we will be happy to have a look or help you clear cookies and check privacy settings.

What’s the final thought on internet cookies?

As with most technologies, cookies are not inherently good or bad–their ethical nature ultimately depends on how each website deploys, tracks, and uses them. With this in mind, website users who are concerned that cookies pose a potential threat to their data privacy must decide whether to allow them on a case-by-case, site-by-site basis.