Definition of cookie

A cookie is a widely-used small computer file, containing code, that stores data about internet users’ behaviour.

This file is a legacy of the early days of the internet. These controversial but widely used tools help websites calculate how many people visit the site, personalise the content that they see and target ads.

These are used to build profiles of web surfers by tracking their activities across a network of websites.

But the decades-old cookie has its limits, especially as companies seek to track consumers across multiple devices. The way that cookies typically work means a profile of an individual on his or her work computer is separate from the profile created on his or her other devices. Meanwhile, cookies do not work on mobile phones, tablets and other devices and when consumers delete their cookies, those profiles are erased.


cookie in the news

Google is looking to replace third-party cookies, the ones installed by companies other than the operator of website you are visiting, such as advertisers.

The move signals a growing momentum in the internet and advertising industries to create new techniques for profiling consumers across smartphones, televisions, computers and even billboards.

During the past several years, companies have rushed to develop alternative technologies that would allow tracking companies to sync those profiles and create one dossier about an individual based on their activities across multiple screens.

Google’s approach appears to be an attempt to create an alternative to the cookie while appeasing some privacy concerns. Under discussion at Google is the use of a personal identifier, where internet users would be able to adjust a single setting in their browser to determine how much information about them is given to advertisers.

The tech giant is not alone in exploring alternatives to the cookie. Similarly, Apple blocks cookies with its Safari browser and collects information about users with a single personal identifier. [1]

In the EU, users are protected by legislation, which requires consent for a wide range of electronic tracking. But in the US there are very few laws regulating online tracking. [2]