What is a Cookie
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This article is written by Shubhang Gupta, pursuing a Diploma in Cyber Law, Fintech Regulations and Technology Contracts from Lawsikho.com. Here he discusses “What is a Cookie and How it affects your Privacy Rights?”.

Introduction

Have you ever wondered whilst opening any site on your desktop or mobile, a small pop up box appears having options, To Agree or Disagree with the stated conditions of the visiting website? Many of us had unknowingly agreed with such conditions or disagree with it, thinking it something like virus or hacking. But this is called a cookie. Yes, you heard right “cookie”. To understand the whole concept, let’s take a look into it. 

What is a Cookie?

Cookies are small files which are stored on your web browser when you accept it or visit any website by default. Cookies store a modest amount of data on your browser. Have ever experienced when you fill any form or personal information on a website except for the first time, the data appears whenever you click on the specified field. This storing of your data by the browser is due to Cookies. Cookies are of many types which are as follows: 

  • Session Cookies

Session cookies are temporary cookies that memorize your online activities. Since websites have no sense of memory so, it stores data in your system space, without these cookies, your site browsing history would always be blank. In fact, with new every click you would make, the website would treat you as a completely new visitor.

A good example of how session cookies are helpful is online shopping. When you’re shopping online, you can check-out at any time. That’s because session cookies track your movement.  Without these cookies, whenever you would go to check-out, your cart would be empty.

  • Persistent Cookies

Persistent cookies (also known as first-party cookies) work by tracking your online preferences made on a visiting website.  When you visit a website for the first time, it is at its default setting. But if you personalize the site to fit your preferences, persistent cookies will remember and implement those preferences the next time you visit the site. This is how computers remember and store your login ids and passwords, language selections, menu preferences, internal bookmarks, and more.

Persistent, permanent is a term used interchangeably as these cookies are stored on your hard disk for (typically) a long period of time. The cookie’s timeline will vary depending on the expiration date.  But, once that date is reached, the cookie will be deleted, along with everything you customized. Luckily, websites prefer to employ a long-life span so that users can make the most of their personal preferences.

  • Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies, also referred to as tracking cookies, collect data based on your online behaviour. When you visit a website, third-party cookies collect various types of data that are then passed on or sold to advertisers by the website that created the cookie. Tracking your interests, location, age, and search trends, these cookies collect information so that marketers can provide you with custom advertisements. These are the ads that appear on websites you visit and display content relevant to your interests.

Why it is Useful?

Now the next question comes in mind is why we need to accept these Cookies or why websites download it by default? One of the reasons is mentioned above and moreover, it is being downloaded for further reasons, which are as follows:

  1. By using Cookies, the website server can detect your location, which helps them to accommodate you better by providing their services from their nearby store or outlet.
  2. Cookies also store user behaviour when a user visits a website. Through analyzing such data, the website suggests the most appropriate product(s) or service(s) as per the user. 
  3. Cookies help to enhance the experience of a user on a website by providing eye catching graphics and content.

How to block or delete Cookies from your web browser?

The most contentious question arises is how you can block or delete Cookies from the system? The first step is that you can simply delete such Cookies already loaded in your hard disk. Merely deleting Cookies from your hard disk is unfruitful, unless you don’t block the recreation of Cookies. It’s a matter of seconds for the websites to recreate the Cookies, the next time you go online, into your hard disk. To fix this issue, you must change the preferences of your browser setting. This will, however, inhibits the Cookies from directly embedding into your hard disk. 

But blocking the Cookies by changing your preference of the browser settings comes with some repercussions like; a user will experience sluggish web browsing and hence your online experience will change. Navigating the web without first-party cookies can be difficult. Many websites require session cookies and persistent cookies to be active in order to view content, and, without them, you will not be recognized as an individual.  

This lack of recognition means you will not be able to shop online or perform any activity which requires personal information and you will have to reset personal preferences on all web pages you visit.  Comparatively, blocking third-party cookies only prevents data tracking and targeted advertisements. 

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How cookies trespass in your Privacy Rights?

A cookie usually helps to enhance a user’s experience on the website or store the modest amount of data required to provide better services to the user. But all players are not fair in the game! Few handfuls of big corporations notably Facebook, Google and Amazon are using cookies to invade in your privacy and holds a large amount of personally identifiable data about millions of people around the world. Recently, a company named Data Analytics made headlines a few months ago, regarding “Sharing of personal data of the users with other organizations”. This is how some websites or company uses our personal data in an arbitrary manner, which is against the natural rights of a user. 

Have you ever notice that, whenever we Google for any product or service, we immediately see such advertisements on other applications or websites relating to product or service that we have searched for. Amazed! The companies can track user behaviour patterns or his choice etc. 

This is all possible by using Cookies however, every website has its own Cookies policy, which enumerates, what kind of Cookies they are using, what will be their purpose or how long does Cookie will be on your system etc. Reading Cookie policy can certainly make aware a user about his data privacy.

It is important here to mention that, “In 2012 Google agreed to a $22.5 million settlement over Apple’s Safari Web browser, which has a default setting to block third-party cookies that Google bypassed. A U.K. court recently ruled that Safari users can sue Google over cookie tracking”.

Which Law governs the Cookie policy in India? And is there any International law which governs the Cookie policy?

In India there is no legislation which governs the Cookie policy though; there is a need for such legislation which protects the personal data and privacy of the citizens. Recently, In the Aadhar judgment, the Supreme Court had moved a step forward by stating the need to implement such legislation to protect the rights of the citizens which comes under the “Right to Privacy” under Article 21 (in case of Justice K.S. Puttaswamy(Retd.) v. Union Of India )the Indian Constitution. 

In 2009, the European Union had passed a Directive 2009/136/EC, which has come to be known as Cookie Law. Bypassing this directive, it is mandatory for the members of the state to set up laws requiring the websites to obtain consent from a user before they can store or collect information on a user’s computer or web-enabled device. 

Conclusion

After discussing the concept of Cookies comprehensively, it is evident that the development of Cookie has emerged as a tool which enhances the experience of using the website by the user and also facilitates the website to store a modest amount of data of the user, which helps companies to serve users better. Different kinds of cookie discharge different functions. A user should read what cookies are used, what is the purpose of storing your information or whether it is shared with the third party? Etc. In short, Cookie helps both users and visiting the website by meeting their ends but, talking in the context of a country like India, which has a huge population and where the majority of people uses the internet, There it becomes utmost necessary to have such policy which governs the Cookie policy. It is indeed required to have a legislation which can maintain a balance between the interests of a user and website. As, it is discussed hereinabove that how handful company, uses the personal data of a user for commercial purposes. This data has the potential to influence not just the choice of a product or service but, also may have an impact on political opinion. Currently, the European Union has a piece of legislation which regulates the cookie policy in the subcontinent. The directive 2009/136/EC was passed back in 2009 and there is a need to amend such regulations according to the new developments in technology occurred since then.


Students of Lawsikho courses regularly produce writing assignments and work on practical exercises as a part of their coursework and develop themselves in real-life practical skills.

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