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.
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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.
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.
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.
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