Cookies are small text files that web sites often store on the computer hard drives of visitors to their sites. They are widely used in order to make web sites work, or work better, as well as to provide information to the owners of the site. A cookie often contains a unique number, which can be used to recognise your computer when a user of your computer returns to a website that it visited previously.
Types of cookies
There are two broad types of cookies - 'first party cookies' and 'third party cookies':
- First party cookies are cookies that are served directly by the website operator to your computer, and are often used to recognise your computer when it revisits that site and to remember your preferences as you browse the site.
- Third party cookies are served by a service provider on behalf of the website operator, and can be used by the service provider to recognise your computer when it visits other web sites. Third party cookies are most commonly used for web site analytics or advertising purposes.
- In addition, cookies may be either 'session cookies' or 'persistent cookies'. Your computer automatically removes session cookies once you close your browser. Persistent cookies will survive on your computer until an expiry date specified in the cookie itself, is reached.
Changing your cookie preferences
The "Help" menu in the toolbar of most web browsers will tell you how to change your browser's cookie settings, including how to have the browser notify you when you receive a new cookie, and how to disable cookies altogether. An online guide is available if you have difficulties trying to change your browser settings.
Further information about cookies and how to control their use is available from All About Cookies and Your Online Choices.