Internet Cookies – What They Are and How to Block Them
If you’re like most parents, the first time you heard of Internet cookies you probably wondered to yourself, ‘what the heck are cookies?’ Well, simply put, cookies are small, often encrypted (protected) text-only files that reside on your web browser or computer’s memory. In a nutshell, cookies are used to make your web-browsing experience a little more convenient by remembering things like where you left off, addresses, account numbers, username and encrypted passwords, and other specific preferences. But cookies can also be used to track specific web analytics or a user’s navigation through a particular website.
There are two different types of cookies, first-party and third-party, each serving their own purpose.
- First-party cookies are cookies issued by the website you’re actually visiting. These cookies serve the function mentioned above: saving usernames, language preferences, and other specific preferences to make your browsing experience more convenient.
Take Amazon.com as an example. As you’re browsing the site, you can add things to your cart and continue shopping. This works because Amazon places a temporary cookie on your web browser so it remembers what’s in your cart. Without it, the cart will be empty as soon as you navigate to a new page within Amazon.
First-party cookies, for the most part, are harmless as they typically do not contain any personal information about the user.
- Third-party cookies, on the other hand, are issued by an entity like an ad network or a marketing firm. These companies can place third-party cookies on online advertisements as a way to track and analyze your personal interests or browsing habits. This information allows ad networks to deliver more relevant ads to the user.
As you can imagine, this is where things can get hairy with user consent, ‘do not track’ regulations and online privacy concerns. The WSJ put together a really nice video that explains exactly how this works.
Like I touched on in the How to Easily Block Ads on Your Child’s Computer article, it might not sit well with you that marketing firms are using cookies to track your child’s web browsing preferences. If that’s the case, you can follow these steps to disable cookies on their/your family’s web browser.
- Open Internet Explorer.
- Click the “Tools” icon in the top right corner and select Internet Options from the menu.
- In the Internet Options box that pops up, click the Privacy tab and then click the button called Advanced.
- This will bring up the Advanced Privacy Settings box. Check the box that says Override automatic cookie handling. Then select the types of cookies you want to allow or block. My suggestion is to allow first-party and block third-party.
- Hit OK when you’re done, and then hit Apply on the Internet Options box to make the changes official.
- Open Firefox
- Click the Firefox tab in the top left corner. Scroll over Options and then select Options from the menu.
- The Options window will display. Click the Privacy tab.
- Here, you’ll need to do a few things. First, check the box that says “Tell websites I do not want to be tracked”. Then, under the History section, select “Use custom settings for history” from the drop down menu. This will allow you to customize your settings for cookies and web browsing history.
Here are the settings that I recommend.
- Open Safari
- Click the Tools icon in the top right corner and click Preferences.
- From here, click the Privacy tab and select the “Block cookies from third-parties and advertisers” radio button.
- Open Chrome
- Click the wrench icon in the top right and select Options.
- Click on “Under the Hood” on the left navigation panel. In the Privacy section, click the Content settings button.
- The Content Settings menu will appear. Here you’ll want to make sure that your settings match the screenshot below, at minimum.
Hope this helps you feel better about the time your children spend online. Let us know.