How do Internet Cookies Work?

Internet cookies seem to have a negative impression on people because of the misconceptions about them, especially back in 2000 when they received media attention regarding Internet privacy concerns. On the contrary, internet cookies are actually incredibly simple.

Cookies enable websites to gather accurate information about its visitors and allow users to navigate the web more easily. In a nutshell, cookies provide a better user experience by storing data that websites can simply access again the next time a user visits the said sites.

So how do internet cookies work? To help you understand, it is best if we first discuss what a cookie is. A cookie is a piece of information in the form of text that web servers can store on the hard disk of a user. Through cookies, websites can store information on a user’s machine in order to later retrieve it for easier navigation and user experience. What you must understand is that cookies are not programs and they are not able to gather information on their own. Therefore, even if they are stored in your hard disk, they cannot collect personal information about you from your computer.

How do Internet Cookies Work

Websites create unique ID numbers for its users and visitors. These websites mostly use cookies to store the ID numbers on each of the user’s machines. This is helpful for website designers since they can use these ID numbers to customize their web pages for you. For example, upon signing up in a website, you entered your full name. The website can then use the ID stored in the cookie to know that the page should display “Welcome back, (your name)” upon your log in.

Cookies are text files; therefore, you can access them and actually open them to see what they contain. Websites can only retrieve the cookies that they sent to your machine. They will not be able to retrieve information from other cookie files or from your hard drive through these cookies.

To show you how cookie data moves, let us use Amazon.com as our example. When you go to Amazon.com by typing their URL in the address bar, your browser requests the home page by contacting Amazon’s server. As your browser contacts Amazon’s server, it also looks for a cookie file that was previously set by Amazon in your hard disk. If it finds the Amazon cookie file, it will be sent by your browser to Amazon’s server together with the URL. Amazon’s server will then receive the cookie data and request for a page which is paired with the data in the cookie file. Should there be no cookie file, Amazon’s server will then create a new ID for you that they can store in their database.