If you‘ve spent any time online, chances are you‘ve encountered cookies on websites. These bits of data make the web work, yet also raise privacy questions. One kind in particular – session cookies – are especially common but not widely understood. What exactly are session cookies, and are they tracking your every move?
In this comprehensive cookie explainer, we‘ll lift the lid on session cookies – from what they are to how they work and tools to control them. My goal is to help you understand session cookies so you can comfortably navigate the modern web. Equipped with knowledge, you can make informed choices about your privacy. Let‘s dive in!
What Are Session Cookies Exactly?
Session cookies are cookies that operate only during a single browsing session – that is, until you close your web browser. They allow sites to identify you as you navigate their pages in that session, so you don‘t have to log in repeatedly or re-enter information.
For example, session cookies enable online shopping carts. As you browse products, the cookie remembers items you add to your cart. Otherwise, your cart would empty every time you clicked to a new page!
Session cookies are also handy for recalling data you enter into online forms, so you don‘t have to re-type it when navigating elsewhere on a site.
Once you close your browser, session cookies are deleted. They aren‘t stored on your device long-term. The next time you visit that website, a new session cookie is generated to track only your current visit.
Why Session Cookies Matter
Convenience – By recognizing you across pages, sites provide a smooth, uninterrupted experience. No constantly re-entering passwords or losing your place in a process.
Speed – Session cookies reduce server requests by using existing browser-side data, making sites faster.
Usability – Essential features like shopping carts, live chats, and multipage transactions rely on these cookies to work properly.
Personalization – Sites can tailor content and recommendations based on your activity during that session.
Cookie Types: Session vs. Persistent
|Duration||Single session||Weeks, months, years|
|Storage||Cleared when browser closes||Remains after browser closes|
|Data Collected||Session ID, recent activity||Personal info, browsing history, preferences|
|Tracking||Within single session||Across multiple sessions|
While session cookies stick around only briefly, persistent cookies have much longer lifespans weeks, months, or even years. They remain on your device across browser sessions.
Persistent cookies can be used to collect data about your interests and activity over time – sometimes for advertising purposes. For this reason, they raise more privacy concerns compared to short-lived session cookies.
The Privacy Implications
While session cookies themselves do not collect personal information, they can be used in conjunction with other tools to build user profiles and target advertising.
For example, a persistent cookie sets an identifier linked to your account profile. Meanwhile, session cookies track your activity in real time. By combining the two, sites assemble detailed browsing histories and interest profiles.
Major companies like Google and Facebook leverage cookie data for ad targeting. In fact, Google makes 60% of its revenue from ads informed by its extensive user data collection.
However, session cookies on their own are reasonably anonymous and transient. Still, some prefer to delete all cookies for privacy peace of mind.
Cookie Regulations Around the World
Governments worldwide are establishing privacy rules regarding cookies and data collection:
- GDPR – European law requiring clear disclosure of cookie usage and consent.
- CCPA – California law granting residents access to their data and opt-outs.
- PECR – UK regulation mandating consent for most cookies.
While imperfect, these demonstrate a move toward giving users more control over their privacy.
Managing Your Cookies
If you want more say in cookie usage, you have options:
All major browsers allow you to disable cookies entirely, clear them regularly, or whitelist only trusted sites. Look under the Privacy & Security menu.
Browser extensions like Total Adblock block ads, trackers, and unwanted cookies. This add-on identified 21 tracking cookies on one site I visited!
A VPN like NordVPN masks your IP address and online activity from snooping. Some provide dedicated ad and malware blocking.
You‘re in Control
While cookies are integral to the web, you decide how much tracking you‘re comfortable with. Instead of avoiding the internet entirely, equip yourself with knowledge and tools to manage cookies wisely.
Session cookies provide real convenience during online activities without long-term tracking. But persistent cookies can build extensive behavioral profiles across sites.
Understanding cookie types and functions allows you to make informed decisions about your privacy. Take charge with your browser settings, ad blockers, VPNs, and wise online habits.
Now you can harness the benefits of cookies while controlling their downsides. Surf on!