Cookie Law Definitions

What are Cookies?

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your computer or mobile device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information.

What are cookies used for?

Cookies are enabled by the owner of a website. Originally, they were created to enable e-commerce solution for the web, as the web did not have any concept of memory. Today, they are meant to enhance the overall experience of a person visiting a website.

What are First Party Cookies?

All cookies set by the owner of the website are called first party cookies. Only the particular website you visited will know and remember some information it gathered about you while you were browsing the website.

Some examples include identifying users, remembering users’ custom preferences (such as language preference) and helping users complete tasks without having to re-enter information when browsing from one page to another or when visiting the site later, such as a shopping cart or “remember me next time” ticked box.

What are Third Party Cookies?

A third-party cookie is a cookie that does not originate from the website that you are visiting. It is placed on a user’s hard disk by a web site from a domain other than the one you are visiting. They are often set by advertising networks that a site may subscribe to in the hopes of driving up sales or page hits.  They are also sent by advertisers, which embed “piece” of their website in someone else’s website, which allows them to store a cookie on your machine as well.

For example, you visit a news website and the site has a couple ads on it. The news website itself can store cookies on your device (first party cookies) but your browser is also communicating with another website – which is the website that has the ad that is displayed on the news website. That other website can also store a cookie on your device, which would be a third-party cookie.

What are the different types of cookies?

A cookie can be classified by its lifespan and the domain to which it belongs. By lifespan, a cookie is either a:

  • Session or temporary cookie which is erased when the user closes the browser or
  • Persistent cookie which remains on the user’s computer/device for a pre-defined period of time.

As for the domain to which it belongs, there are either:

  • First-party cookies which are set by the web server of the visited page and share the same domain
  • Third-party cookies stored by a different domain than the visited website’s domain. This can happen when the webpage references a file, such as JavaScript, located outside its domain.

There are other, more controversial, types of cookies, such as Flash cookies. Flash cookies are an example of tracking methods that are less noticeable and harder to remove. Flash cookies are cookies that reappear or “respawn” after deletion. It is a standard HTTP cookie backed up by data stored in additional files that are used to rebuild the original cookie when the user visits the originating site again. They are stored in a different place on your device or online, which means that they are not deleted when you delete your browser cookies.

What are other types of tracking technologies?

While cookies are the most commonly used tracking technologies, many other similar technologies exist.

  • Some examples include JavaScript, Images (aka pixels), Object tags, Embed tags, Iframes, Web Beacons, Form fields, Local storage and Notices/Forms detection.