February 25, 2022

Why you should never just accept all cookies

Annoying, annoying, cookies! What really happens when you click on “accept all cookies”? Guest author Dan Arel explains what you can do for your privacy when dealing with cookies.

It’s been happening for a while now, and you’re probably as annoyed as everyone else about it: when you visit a website, you’re constantly asked to accept or decline cookies. Of course, the message telling you to accept all cookies is in big bold print, usually in an easy to click box, while the option to decline is in small-print, less easy to click. This is by design of course, so you’re more easily swayed to accepting them all.  But what happens if you do?

First party cookies and Third-party cookies

First, a quick primer on cookies for those who aren’t aware: a cookie itself can be harmless. Ever visit a site, add something to your cart, leave and when you return later it remembers you? That’s a cookie. Returning to a site you had to login to, and you’re still logged in? Thank a cookie. These so-called First-Party Cookies are the chocolate chip cookies of the internet. We all love them; they bring us joy and make browsing online a little easier.

But not all cookies are chocolate chip cookies. Ever pick up a chocolate chip cookie all excited, take that first bite and realize those are raisins? Those are the dreaded Third-Party Cookies (apologies to fans of raisins). These cookies are the ones that track you even when you leave a website and gather information about where you go, what you do, and report all this information back to advertisers, so they can better target you with specific ads.

There are also other cookies that may be used to track usage for site maintenance, testing different versions of the site with different visitors, and other not so nefarious, but not always great reasons. In the end, these cookies still monitor your usage and build a profile on you.

What happens when you click “Accept All Cookies”

So, when you “Accept All Cookies” you’re accepting the full gamut. You’re telling the site they can place their chocolate chip cookies and raisin cookies – or any other flavor of their choice – on your system to follow you around.

Now, if you decline cookies, you do potentially lose some site benefits such as remembering items in your shopping cart, login credentials, or even light/dark theme preferences you once set. Sometimes, sites stop working altogether.

As mentioned before, this is by design. Site owners want you to click “accept all” because they get all the benefits of you accepting their cookies. In return, you may receive a functioning site, but it comes at the cost of your privacy.

I know this sounds pretty dire. But fear not, because there are solutions. Most modern browsers have a built-in functionality to allow First-Party Cookies and block Third-Party ones. While this is a great out of the box solution, it doesn’t always give you the results you want.

An easy way to block cookies

The best solution is to take control of the cookies while blocking trackers. For this, you can use an extension- and here I would recommend Startpage’s Privacy Protection. With this browser extension you get a detailed insight into which trackers and cookies are lurking in the background of a page and can easily take control of which ones you want to block or allow.

So, if a site’s not working correctly anymore because you have blocked all their cookies, you can choose to unblock a cookie and see if the functionality improves, or chose to leave the site because it won’t work without tracking you. The important thing is: Using an extension like Startpage Privacy Protection puts you back in control.

Some privacy advocates delete all their cookies every time they close their browser, or they automatically block all of them. This might be a good use-case for some, but not for most internet users. The most important thing is understanding the difference between good and bad cookies.

For those not using Startpage’s Privacy Protection, think twice before accepting all cookies, because you might be agreeing to more than you bargained for. For the rest of us, we can browse without fear, knowing that without trackers following us around the internet, we are having a much more private browsing experience.

Dan Arel is a privacy and digital rights activist, founder and curator of ThinkPrivacy.ch, as well as an award-winning journalist, and best-selling author. His work has appeared in the Huff Post, OpenSource, Hacker Noon, Time Magazine, and more. You can follow him on Twitter @danarel.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Startpage.


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