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Know what your cookies are made of

Hello there! Welcome to the bakery. So, you like chocolate chip cookies. Would you like to try raisin? Macadamia? Have you considered the cake? Are you interested in purchasing baking pans? Muffin tins? Baking sheets made from the finest German silicone? What was the last store you visited? The last thing you bought? What’s your credit score?

Would you answer all these questions from a baker, just for a few cookies? We didn’t think so. Then why is it that we have no problem doing it for web cookies?

To be sure, web cookies aren’t necessarily a bad thing, probably not even the worst kind of cookie (looking at you, oatmeal raisin). But how do you let the right cookies in? How do you know which are safe? Are they even necessary? Well, read below to see how we broke cookies down into their main ingredients so you can make the best call.

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Web dialog box with choice to accept or decline cookies

What are cookies, anyway?

The accept cookies pop-up is something we’re all familiar with. Nearly every site asks for your acceptance and often won’t display content unless you agree. So we’ve learned to just say “yes” without giving a thought to what yes even means. Taking the time to understand every cookie would be a daunting challenge, but here’s some general information to help.

Essentially, cookies are just packets of information that let websites get to know you. They improve your browsing experience on websites by helping to identify your preferences and remembering all sorts of information about you, like username, password, and shopping preferences. Your cookie data is part of your digital identity—helping shape you into a real person from all the digital noise on the internet.

Take a breather before you lose your appetite. Those cookies can provide value to you, too. Without cookies, you’d have to log back in every time you exited a website. Doing some shopping? No cookies mean your favorite online stores won’t know what items to suggest. And that shopping cart? You know, the one you’ve been filling with your dream items for months? Without cookies, you’d have to rebuild it every time you returned.

So those little things that make your online experience a little more seamless wouldn’t be possible without cookies.

Kitchen whisk covered with cookie dough

Are they bad?

By and large, cookies are not bad. The don’t really give away anything, but in the wrong hands they can reveal some pretty sensitive information. Imagine if a site was compromised or hacked. Those cookies that were once so helpful to you become a treasure trove of information and personal data to that hacker, allowing them to track your online activity and potentially gain access to your accounts. What a nightmare.

But the real danger is not in sharing your data with cookies, it’s in visiting websites that shouldn’t be trusted. Some companies have dubious practices around what they do with your data, selling it in a “de-identified” form to third parties. It allows other companies to target you with ads and track your browsing behaviors.

The good news is that public outcry has helped pushed back on these practices and laws are changing to further protect the consumer. Third-party cookies are being phased out as companies are looking to be more digitally transparent.

Chocolate chip cookie with one bite missing

How to manage cookies

Managing your cookies is really about controlling your exposure. Luckily, Microsoft Edge comes with tracking prevention built in to help you limit which sites have the ability to track you as you “surf the net.” There are three easy-to-use settings:

  • Basic: Go with this to block only known harmful trackers. It’s the least-strict setting, so you’ll see the highest degree of personalized ads and content.
  • Balanced: This next level blocks trackers from sites you haven’t visited, in addition to known harmful trackers. This setting finds a good balance of privacy with web compatibility, and it is enabled by default.
  • Strict: This is the strongest setting. It blocks the majority of trackers from all sites, so you’ll see the least amount of personalized ads and content. As a result of blocking most trackers, some websites may not work properly.

Sometimes you’ll want even more privacy, like when you’re searching for a gift or planning a surprise. This is when InPrivate comes in handy. Microsoft Edge will delete your browsing history, cookies, and site data when you close all InPrivate windows.

For the highest degree of privacy, use InPrivate and turn tracking prevention on Strict to help limit tracking during your InPrivate browsing session.

Learn more about the privacy and security features that help protect you while you're browsing in Microsoft Edge.

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