Cookies

What is a cookie?

A cookie is a piece of information in the form of a small text file which is placed on your computer by websites which you visit.

They are widely used in order to make websites work, or work more efficiently as well as to provide information to the users of the site.  Think of it like a web user’s ID card which tells a website when a user has returned to the site.

When you visit a site which uses cookies for the first time, a cookie is downloaded to your computer.  The next time you visit that site, your computer checks to see if it has a cookie relating to that site and sends the information stored in the cookie back to the site.  The site then knows that you have been there before and in some cases tailors what appears on the screen as a result of this.

Why do sites use cookies?

Cookies give web visitors a better site visit – making the interaction between the user and the site faster and easier.  They save time and make the overall browsing experience more efficient and enjoyable.  Without cookies for example, it would be difficult for online shopping sites to allow visitors to add items to their shopping cart or to remember user preferences or registration details.

Cookies are often used by sites to collect demographic information about the visitors to the site.  They allow sites to monitor web surfing habits allowing them to use this information for marketing purposes.

Are cookies dangerous?

Cookies are merely small pieces of text.  They are not computer programs and cannot be used to disseminate viruses.

While cookies are stored on the hard drive of your computer, they cannot access the hard drive.  A cookie cannot read other information saved on the hard drive or find/use your email address for example.  They only contain and transfer to a site as much information as the user has disclosed to that site. 

Changing your cookie settings

You do not have to accept cookies.  Most web browsers allow users to modify browser settings so that it will not accept cookies.  To enable or disable cookies, please follow the instructions provided by your browser – these will usually be found within the Help, Tools or Edit function.

For further information on cookies can be found online at:
www.allaboutcookies.org
www.bbc.co.uk/webwise/guides/about-cookies