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Persistent Cookies: Understanding the Crumb Trails in Your Browser

Let‘s explore the world of persistent cookies – those little files that help sites remember you. Specifically, we‘ll dig into how they work, the pros and cons, and how to take control of your cookie privacy. Get ready to crumble through the details!

Cookies are small data files stored on your device by websites you visit. Persistent cookies are designed to stick around for a set period of time rather than disappearing when you close your browser. This allows sites to remember you each time you return. But how exactly do persistent cookies do their job? Let‘s break it down…

Cookie Components – More Than Just Sweet Little Treats

Technically speaking, each cookie consists of some common components:

  • Name – A unique identifier sites use to reference the cookie.
  • Value – The actual data being stored, which could be a user ID, login status, site preferences, etc.
  • Domain – Specifies which website(s) can access the cookie.
  • Path – Narrows access to specific site pages or directories.
  • Expiration – A date and time after which the cookie is no longer valid. Persistent cookies set this further into the future.

Cookies also contain some technical settings like Secure and HttpOnly flags. Together, these components allow precise control over cookie behavior.

Just One Cookie Crumb Won‘t Do

With browser limits on how many cookies a site can set and how much data each one holds, most sites utilize multiple cookies to track activity. By setting cookies to expire at different intervals, they maintain continuous coverage.

For example, Facebook sets over a dozen persistent cookies to store login info, track usage across devices, and customize your feed. Google similarly relies on multiple cookies to remember search history, video preferences, advertising profile, and more.

So don‘t be surprised to see a whole cookiejar‘s worth stored in your browser! The more services a site provides, the more cookie crumbs it needs.

European Privacy Laws – Attempting to Crumble Cookie Tracking

How sites handle cookies has come under increased regulatory scrutiny, especially in Europe. GDPR laws established in 2018 require clear disclosure of cookie use and consent before sites can place cookies in visitor browsers.

They also guarantee users‘ right to delete cookies and object to profiling. Fines for violations are massive – up to 4% of a company‘s global revenue!

However, many feel these landmark laws haven‘t yet made a big impact on limiting persistent tracking cookies. Tricky consent notices still allow most sites to keep deploying excessive cookies until better enforcement mechanisms emerge.

Crumbling Privacy: The Risks of Persistent Profiles

What exactly makes persistent cookies a privacy concern compared to short-lived session cookies? It comes down to long-term profiling.

The longer your browsing data is stored and tracked, the more intimate profile sites can build of your interests, habits, identity. Facebook‘s cookies can last 2 years, Google‘s over 30 years!

This amassed data is hugely valuable for ad targeting and site personalization. But breaches could expose private info, while misuse happens in discriminatory or manipulative ways. There are also calls to recognize digital privacy as a basic human right.

By The Numbers: How Many Cookie Crumbs Are We Talking?

The extent of cookie tracking today is astonishing:

  • Popular sites set over 40 cookies per user on average. 70%+ are persistent.
  • Google‘s DoubleClick alone drops over 25 billion tracking cookies per year.
  • Facebook collects 98 data points via cookies for ad targeting.
  • Average cookie filesize is 3KB. Total cookie data for some users exceeds 500KB.

With minimal deletion, our browsers hold more crumbs than a bakery! Managing this requires staying informed and proactive.

Beyond Cookies: Fingerprinting, Pixels and Supercookies

Cookies are just one trick in the tracker‘s playbook. Fingerprinting collects configuration data to identify your browser. Tracking pixels embed invisibly on sites to monitor your activity.

And sneaky "supercookies" re-spawn themselves even after deletion using techniques like ETag respawning. Each method allows building robust behavior profiles tied to you.

Reclaiming Control: Cookie Management Strategies

To gain more cookie control, let‘s look beyond basic browser settings:

  • Audit cookies – Use a tool like Cookiebro to easily visualize all cookies set on your browser, when they expire, who set them.
  • Employ cookie whitelisting – Configure browsers or extensions to only allow cookies from trusted sites you approve, blocking all others.
  • Leverage containers – Browsers like Firefox allow isolating sites in containers to contain cookies. Instagram can‘t see Amazon history.
  • Limit third-party tracking – Block all cookies not from the domain you are directly visiting to prevent profiling.
  • Regularly purge cookies – Set calendar reminders to wipe your cookiejar clean, resetting all site profiles.

With some diligence, we can enjoy the web while letting our least favorite cookie crumbs crumble away. Here‘s to a less sticky browsing experience!


Streamr Go

StreamrGo is always about privacy, specifically protecting your privacy online by increasing security and better standard privacy practices.