The Advantages & Disadvantages of Computer Cookies

Updated February 21, 2017

A computer cookie is a string of text that websites place into a browser's memory. It tells the website information about the user and keeps the user from having to repeatedly re-enter this information. Cookies can make browsing and basic web tasks significantly simpler. Cookies can also be used to collect demographic and other personal information, which makes them a privacy concern.

Ease of Browsing

Cookies make a number of browsing and web use tasks easier. They're responsible for making personalised services, such as Google Mail or Yahoo, function correctly. Cookies keep users logged into websites, save personal preferences and make online sales significantly easier. Without the ability to store information in cookies, users would have to re-enter this data every time it was needed.

Limited Duration

According to GoogleGuide, each browser cookie has a unique name and expiration date. The browser keeps the cookie only until that date, which might be when the browser closes (a session cookie) or some date in the future (a long-term cookie). This limited duration means that the website can only track the information stored in the cookie until the time is up.

Privacy Concerns

Cookies allow websites to keep track of more than just user names, passwords and similar data. They also allow a website to collect information on a user and that user's online activity. For instance, a cookie can be used to track the websites a user has visited, which operating system that person uses, and other system information. Some marketers use this data to serve specific types of advertising when the user next visits their website. However, according to the World Wide Web Consortium, cookies can only store information the user or the user's browser has voluntarily provided--they cannot access personal information, such as financial account numbers, unless the user enters it into a form.

Ease of Control

Because cookies are stored in text format, users can examine them individually. Most browsers allow users to block some or all cookies and to delete unwanted cookies manually. This makes it easier to see what information a website is gathering and to prevent it from continuing to track that information. Removing cookies may require a user to log back into some sites or re-enter information to restore full website functionality.

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About the Author

G.D. Palmer is a freelance writer and illustrator living in Milwaukee, Wis. She has been producing print and Web content for various organizations since 1998 and has been freelancing full-time since 2007. Palmer holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in writing and studio art from Beloit College in Beloit, Wis.