There’s nothing delicious about internet cookies, but they can be very useful. Cookies are little bits of data that a website puts on your computer, tablet, or phone’s web browser so that it can “remember” you as you browse, or for when you visit the site again in the future. Cookies are a key tool that enables much of the way we interact with the internet today, and are used for a range of purposes.
Cookies do the following:
- Remember login information on the sites you visit
- Keep what’s inside your cart when you’re shopping online
- Record your user preferences and settings
- Help analyze website traffic, which is crucial data for nearly any organization, business, or individual who has a website
- Track your online behavior, sometimes for the purposes of advertising
Types of cookies
Different types of cookies do different things. One way to categorize cookies is by their longevity.
- Session (or temporary) cookies, which only remember what the user is doing during one browsing session, which ends when you exit the browser. If you’re online shopping, a session cookie will keep items in your shopping cart until you check out or close the browser. Session cookies have become less distinct from stored cookies as users leave browser windows open longer on their computers, and browsing sessions are less clearly defined on mobile.
- Stored (or persistent) cookies, which stay on your device between browsing sessions. In the online shopping example, persistent cookies will keep the item in your cart even after you’ve closed out the website, to show it to you after you return.
We also often talk about first-party and third-party cookies.
- First-party cookies are simply cookies that belong to the website you’re browsing.
- Third-party cookies are attached to a domain that is different from the one you might be browsing. These collect your data as you’re surfing the web in order to personalize your experience—for example, third-party cookies can ensure paying YouTube subscribers don’t see ads on videos embedded on other site. These cookies can also track your activity and sell it to advertisers, as with re-targeted ads.
For this reason, third-party cookies are the most controversial kind of cookies. Apple by default blocks third-party cookies on Safari and apps downloaded to its devices, as does Mozilla Firefox. Google has said that it will follow suit. Privacy advocates applaud moves to restrict third-party cookie collection, but others are less thrilled. Facebook has accused Apple of undermining its rivals by going after their advertising business.
In some areas, cookies are regulated by privacy laws. In the European Union and California, a website has to ask you for consent in order to use nonessential cookies (via those annoying, but important, pop-ups or banners). Internet users have to be able to opt-out of nonessential cookies and still be able to use the website.
Why should I clear cookies?
While cookies are in many ways beneficial, there are a number of reasons for why you should consider occasionally clearing them.
- Cookies may slow down your devices. Since cookies are often stored locally, they take up space. Once they add up over time, they may slow down your computer or phone.
- Cookies are tracking your online activity. Third-party cookies are a privacy vulnerability. They contain information about your browsing activity that can be sold to intrusive advertisers.
- Cookies may be interfering with your browsing. If you have outdated cookies saved locally, they may conflict with a newly-updated website, which may have issues loading.
How to clear cookies on different browsers
It’s fairly simple to clear cookies on your computer or phone. You can also do it selectively, according to your needs, selecting the time range, or choosing specific sites which you don’t want collecting your data.
- In the upper-right hand corner of your browser window, click the three vertical dots (the “Customize and control” menu), then select “More tools” and “Clear browsing data.”
- Here you can choose how much data you want to clear, and the time range.
- Checking the boxes for “Cookies and other site data” and “Cached images and files” and clicking “clear data” will clear your cookies and cache.
- Checking the first box will also delete your browsing history.
- Click on the ellipsis or “three dot” menu on the upper-right (Android) or lower-right side (iOS) of your screen.
- Select “Settings” then “Privacy” and finally, “Clear Browsing Data.”
- Then check "Cookies, media licenses and site data,” (Android) or “Cookies, site data” (iOS), and check or uncheck the other items, depending on your preference.
- Then click “Clear data” (Android) or “Clear browsing data” (iOS).
- Open Safari, and click on “Safari” in the menu bar at the top of your screen, and then go to “Preferences” and “Privacy.”
- To remove cookies, go to “Manage Website Data” and either select the websites you want to remove cookies for and click “Remove,” or click “Remove All.” This will clear your cache as well.
- Select “settings”, then “Safari” and click “Clear History and Website Data.”
- If you want to keep your browsing history, after you tap “Safari,” go to “Advanced,” then click on “Website Data,” and tap “Remove All Website Data.” This will also clear your cache.
- Open Firefox, and go to the menu in the upper right corner (three parallel horizontal lines).
- Select “Privacy,” and select “Clear your recent history.”
- Pick the time range for when you want to delete your cookies (like “Everything”).
- Check that only “cookies” is selected (unless you also want to clear your cache and browsing history), and click “Clear now.”
You can also get a clear cookies extension on Firefox, that will simplify the process.
- Open Firefox, go to the menu button that looks like three parallel bars in the upper right corner (Android) or lower right corner (iOS).
- Click “Settings,” and then “Privacy & Security” (Android) or “Privacy (iOS).
- Then tap “clear data.”
- Open Microsoft Edge, then go to the menu on the upper right that looks like three dots, or an ellipses (that’s the “Settings and more” menu).
- Click “Settings,” then “Privacy, Search, and Services.”
- Under “Clear browsing data” select “Choose what to clear” and make sure that “Cookies and other site data” is checked.
- Pick a time range from the drop-down menu and click “Clear Now.”
Other actions you can take to wipe your browsing activity
Remember that clearing cookies is different from clearing your cache or clearing browser history (although some browsers force you to clear a combination of them at the same time in the default clearing process). Clearing your cache will delete temporary files like photos or banners, and it may speed up your device (including your phone).
Clearing your browser history on its own will just delete your browser’s “memory” of the sites you’ve visited.
Finally, In addition to clearing your cookies, you can also block them. If you block all of them, browsing the internet might become annoying because you’ll have to retype your logins and passwords every time you enter a website. (Note that a password manager can help reduce the manual work of entering a username and password.) You can block cookies selectively for some websites, or block a particular kind of them, like third-party cookies (those that track you for targeted advertising).
Five things to consider before removing cookies
If you choose to block all cookies, a number of things may happen:
- Some websites may not work at all because they require cookies.
- Individual features on some websites may not work.
- If you’re not using an Autofill feature or a password manager, you’ll have to retype your logins and passwords each time you enter a website.
- Websites won’t remember your previous activity, whether it’s some preference settings you’ve previously set, or leftover items in your shopping cart.
- If you block third-party cookies, you’ll likely see ads that are not relevant to your interests.
Cookies vs. cache
Another mechanism that helps users interact with the internet efficiently is the cache. A browser cache stores temporary files that help a browser or a website load faster. Instead of downloading the web content—such as images, cookies, or scripts—every time you open a website, your browser can just retrieve it from the cache.
Ready for a private search experience that was built for people, not data mining or advertising? Try Neeva, the world’s first private, ad-free search engine. We are committed to showing you the best results for every search. We will never sell or share your data with anyone, especially advertisers. Try Neeva for yourself, at neeva.com.