What Happens If You Do Not Accept Cookies?
Every time you browse the internet, you get served a plateful of cookies, most likely without your knowledge. Although, since 2020, you may have noticed that when you visit a website for the first time, a pop-up asks you if it’s OK to set cookies on your device.
That’s the result of a data protection law (GDPR) in the European Union that started in 2020. GDPR requires websites to notify visitors when they collect information about them. Because of the global nature of the internet, the EU law affects us here in the U.S. too.
So, what are cookies on a PC? Are cookies bad for your computer? What happens if you say no to internet cookies? Here’s a look at what computer cookies can do to your hardware and what happens if you say you don’t want any.
What Are Computer Cookies?
You visit websites through a browser (such as the OneLaunch browser), and the websites install cookies on your computer through your browser, unless you tell them not to.
Computer cookies, also known as HTTP cookies, browser cookies, web cookies, or internet cookies, are text files that contain information about your internet activity and get stored on your computer. Websites use four types of session (first-party) cookies, persistent cookies, third-party cookies, and super cookies.
What Kind of Information Do Cookies Contain?
Let’s break down the four cookies mentioned above.
A session cookie is temporary. Once you close your browser, they get deleted. The most common use for session cookies is for eCommerce; for example, while you shop and add things to your cart, the cookie makes it possible to add to your cart and continue shopping. Without this type of cookie, your online shopping experience would be very annoying, like someone coming along and taking things out of your shopping cart and putting them back on the shelves!
Session cookies are safe, very common, and do not hurt your computer.
Persistent cookies store your data for an extended duration. Although each persistent cookie comes with an expiration date, it can range from a few days to several years after your website visit.
Examples of websites that commonly work with persistent cookies include any site you regularly visit that requires a user name and password. It’s how they remember you when you sign in. Any site that you regularly do business with online very likely uses persistent cookies to help remember you when you sign in: banks, social media accounts, online education, meal subscription services, online retailers you regularly visit, your doctor’s website, your employer’s website, your utilities, etc.
Also known as tracking cookies, third-party cookies are set on your devices by sites other than the one you visit. The typical purpose of a tracking cookie is advertising insight. If you’ve ever shopped for airline tickets and then gotten pop-up ads for car rentals, that’s a third-party cookie at work.
These are typically safe, but you can block them if you find them intrusive or annoying.
Supercookies are the newest type of cookie to hit the internet. This tracking cookie allows third parties, like advertisers, to identify you and follow your movements across the web, no matter the site you visit. Advertisers can build a profile on you, including your interests and the websites you frequent, with the information gathered through supercookies and other tracking methods.
The Good and Bad of Cookies
While computer cookies sound nefarious, there are a few advantages of cookies. Tracking your browsing habits allows cookies to customize a website experience for you. For example, if a webpage collects your location data, it can display geographically relevant information for you.
Other ways cookies can improve your internet experience:
- Custom location: Cookies customize things like your location and currency preferences, so you don’t have to select them every time you visit the site. Similar to this task is auto-filling in web forms like your mailing and billing address(es), saving you from typing them over and over.
- Relevant advertisements: Cookies are behind all of those suggested products or content (ads) that you see around the web soon after searching for those or other related products.
- Enhanced shopping: Cookies save your online shopping cart contents until you return to the site.
It never fails: With good comes bad, and computer cookies are no different.
- Lack of privacy: Almost all browsers enable computer cookies by default, allowing your online activities to be shared with those you’ve never met. Although the idea is to create a feeling of personalized online experience, it can give users a creepy sense of “someone is watching me.”
- Unauthorized sharing: Websites can collect and sell your data, unless you specifically ask them not to.
- Memory usage: Like other files on your computer, cookies take up storage space on your hard drive. Without cleaning up your cookies, they’re able to take up a substantial amount of space.
- Cookie save errors: Cookies conveniently save your information to make your browsing experience easier, but they can also save errors, like mistyped passwords.
How to Manage Cookies
So, where do you find cookies on your Windows computer, and how can you clean them up or say no to cookies? Here is how to find cookies on your computer and how to delete cookies safely.
Where to find the cookie folder
First, the where: You can find cookies in a cascade of folders and files in a Windows 10 computer that looks something like this “C:\Users\Your_User_Name\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\User Data\Default” (then a file name). Even if you found these files, you wouldn’t be able to read them. To make the managing cookies process easier, go through the browser that you use (Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.).
By the way, you might also see cookie folders referred to as caches. We’ll use both those terms in the next section.
Also, developers update their browsers all the time, so the instructions below might vary, depending on what version of your operating system and browser you are using.
Cookie folder for Google Chrome (*and OneLaunch)
To clear the cache or delete cookies from Chrome, open the app and tap the three-dot menu (top-right corner) and select >More tools > Clear browsing data. Under the Security and Privacy menu, you have a time range to select from: last hour, 4 hours, 7 days, 4 weeks, and all time.
If you select this method, all cookies within the specified time will be deleted. IMPORTANT: This will delete all cookies, including the ones you might want, like cookies that help you sign in to your bank account, social media, and online apps without having to memorize passwords.
You might prefer to hand-pick the cookies you want to delete and the ones you would like to save, rather than deleting the entire cache. To block or allow cookies under the Security and Privacy menu, select Cookies and other site data. Here you can select to view all the cookies stored on your computer and block or allow all cookies or customize them.
*If you are using OneLaunch, which is built off Chromium, the process to remove cookies is the same. (… And if you aren’t using OneLaunch, we invite you to give it a try. OneLaunch is free and significantly upgrades your Windows experience.)
Delete cookies from Microsoft Edge
Open Microsoft Edge and select the three-dot menu in the upper-right corner. Tap Settings > Privacy, search, and services. Clear out browsing data within Blocked trackers or Clear browsing data sections. To block or allow exceptions, you can do so as a group in the Tracking Prevention option.
Clear your cache from Microsoft Internet Explorer
To delete cookies already on your system, open Microsoft Internet Explorer. Tap the Tools gear icon (top-right corner) > Security > Delete browsing history. Ensure cookies and website data are checked, click Delete. To block or allow cookies, tap the Tools icon > Internet options > Privacy > Settings > Advanced. Check your preferences.
Clear cookies with Mozilla Firefox
Tap the hamburger menu (three lines) in the top-right corner and select Settings > Privacy & Security. Under Cookies and Site Data, you can opt to clear data, manage data and manage exceptions. You can further use the Custom option under Firefox’s Enhanced Tracking Protection section to block all or certain cookies.
Which Cookies to Block?
Before you rid your world of computer cookies, you must know that blocking ALL cookies may cause some websites not to grant you access. Websites may also fail to provide a more helpful, focused interface (personalized experience). Of course, you will also have to re-enter your personal information for log-ins and web forms. With that said, there are certain reasons you should NEVER accept or keep on your computer:
- Unencrypted websites: Sites where the lock icon in the address bar is unlocked.
- Third-party cookies: Sharing your information with third parties leaves your data vulnerable, as it can be sold.
- Flagged cookies: If your anti-virus software flags suspicious cookies, err on the side of caution and remove them from your computer and block them if an option.
- Provide personal information: Decline cookies that require you to enter personal data like your banking or Social Security number. Only provide this information when you’ve set up an account (such as with a bank or healthcare provider), and you have logged in securely.
- Slow computer speed: If your computer is sluggish, it could be you’ve got too many cookies stored, and it’s time to clear them out and block new ones from occupying your computer’s storage.
Computer cookies themselves are not harmful, meaning they can’t infect your computer with malware or a virus. However, they may prove dangerous depending on who can access your data and what they do with it. The good news, some browsers, like Firefox, block third-party cookies by default. Google is reportedly working on it and plans to start blocking third-party cookies in 2023.