*First vs Third party cookies … What’s the difference?

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By now most computer users know that their browsers store little snippets of data in small files called “cookies”. These cookies are simple data files that can contain very basic information about a website that has been visited.

Websites commonly use cookies to track users’ site preferences, login status, and information regarding active plugins. Whenever a user visits a website, some cookies save the configurations specified by the user for that particular destination.

They’re small in size (only a few KB), but over time, you can accumulate a lot of them.

This volume means your web browser must use take additional time and computing power (albeit small) to properly load saved web pages, which means your browser sessions will likely get slower and slower.

Cookies do help speed up your web browsing a small bit, but it’s a good idea nonetheless to clear these files now and then to free up hard disk space and computing power while browsing the web. While most of the time cookies are beneficial to the user’s browsing experience, there are times when the data may not be something the computer’s owner wants or needs to be stored.

For example, there are times where we choose (or need) to change our passwords. This presents a problem if we don’t clear our cookies. Failure to do so could prevent a website from successfully authenticating us for a service. Deleting cookies and creating a new one with the updated login credentials will solve this problem.

Third-parties can also place cookies on your computer if the website has certain links to other sites that collect data. That means third parties can leverage cookies to gather information about users across multiple websites.

But what defines the “party” of a cookie? Let’s get into the difference between first- and third-party cookies now.

A Cookie’s “Party” Boils Down to Its Domain

Third-party cookies aren’t any less cookies than first-party cookies. They’re both data files that web browsers save to a user’s computer in order to track their site preferences, login status, and information regarding active plugins, among other things. The difference between them boils down to what domain created the cookies in the first place.

A first-party cookie refers to a cookie created by the domain that a web user is visiting. When a user clicks on Amazon.com from a web browser, for example, that browser sends a web request to connect to Amazon.com, a process which entails a high level of trust that the user is directly interacting with Amazon.com. The web browser subsequently saves this data file (the cookie) to the user’s computer under the “amazon.com” domain.

Most web browsers come with first-party cookies enabled. Why? Because the alternative can be frustrating for some users. PCMag elaborates on this point:

“If you were to disable first-party cookies, a website could not keep track of your activity as you move from page to page. For example, you would be unable to purchase multiple items online in the same transaction. Each time you added something to the cart from another page on the site, it would be treated as a new order.”

A third-party cookie is one that is placed on a user’s hard disk by a Web site from a domain other than the one a user is visiting.

These cookies owe their creation to a domain name that is not the principal domain name (the website in the address bar). Advertising networks are the most common begetters of third-party cookies; they use them to track a user across multiple websites, activity which they can then use to tailor their ads. Images, JavaScript, and iframes also commonly lead to the birth of third-party cookies.

Needless to say, users don’t take to third-party cookies as kindly as they do first-party cookies. Why? Many view them as an infringement of their privacy and a threat to their digital security.

As a result, some users employ plugins like AdBlock Plus and AdFender to prevent things like ads and JavaScript from loading on a website, thereby deterring the creation of third-party cookies.

Whether to allow third-party cookies is ultimately up to you. Just make sure you use a web browser that allows you to disable the collection of these data files should you so choose.

Be Safe – Backup Your Data Regularly!


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