For those unfamiliar, an HTTP cookie or a browser cookie is a piece of data that's stored in your browser whenever you visit a website. With cookies enabled, a website will remember your preferences as well as any small changes you made during your last visit.
While most cookies are safe and used by companies to offer more personalization on their sites, some can be used to track you without your consent. At the same time, cookies can even be spied upon or used to fake the identity of a user so that an attacker can gain access to their online accounts.
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Digital privacy expert at NordVPN, Daniel Markuson provided further insight on the dangers posed by cookies in a press release, saying:
“People need to be aware that cookies follow you online. Even if you hide your IP address with a VPN, cookies can track what you do online and form a partial ID of who you are. Moreover, third parties can sell your cookies. Some sites earn revenue by serving third-party cookies. These aren’t functional – their purpose is to turn a profit from your data. Also, cookies are a vulnerability. With the wrong browser settings or when visiting the wrong website, cookies can introduce security vulnerabilities to your browsing experience.”
Preventing cookies from tracking you
The reason that most websites now feature a pop-up at the bottom of the page requesting users to 'Accept all cookies?” is so that the businesses that run them can comply with data privacy laws like GDPR in Europe and CCPA in California.
Most sites will still allow you to browse and access their content without accepting all cookies, while others let you specify which cookies you want to accept. Still though, if you want to avoid cookies altogether, there are ways to do so. For starters, most browsers have features that let you block unnecessary cookies automatically. However, you can take things a step further by browsing using incognito mode. Although it won't protect your privacy, incognito mode will allow you to visit sites without saving cookies or your history.
For additional protection though, you should consider using a VPN while browsing to hide your IP address which can be crucial if you want your online searches to remain private. NordVPN also recently rolled out its new Threat Protection feature that includes a tracker blocker to prevent third-party cookies from gathering data about your browsing habits and creating a detailed profile on you.
It also might be worth it to use an anonymous browser or one with built-in privacy protection like Mozilla Firefox. When enabled, Firefox's Total Cookie Protection feature stops cookies from tracking users across the web by creating a separate cookie jar for each website they visit.
Cookies have long been an important part of the internet but that could soon change as Google has been working on its Privacy Sandbox with the aim of replacing cookies for good. Until then though, you should continue to think twice before accepting all cookies on every site you visit.
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After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.