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Inside the Digital World of Cookies

Context: Digital Personal Data Protection Act 2023 in India mandates explicit consent from users before collecting or processing their personal data via digital cookies.

What are Digital Cookies?

  • Digital cookies are small pieces of data or code that are stored on a user’s device when they visit a website.
  • Cookies serve as a website’s memory, recognizing users upon their return, enabling features like automatic login and maintaining items in an online shopping cart.
  • Uses of Cookies: 
    • User authentication and keeping users logged in.
    • Personalization of website content and settings.
    • Maintaining persistent shopping carts.
    • Gathering analytics data about user interactions.
    • Targeted advertising based on user interests and browsing history.

Types of Digital Cookies

Several Challenges associated with the Digital Cookies

  • Privacy Concerns: Cookies can track a user’s online behavior, which, while often harmless, can raise concerns about digital privacy.
  • Security Risks: Inadequately secured cookies can create opportunities for cybercriminals to access and potentially steal personal information stored in cookies.
  • Debates Over Third-Party Cookies: The use of third-party cookies has sparked debates about user privacy, leading many web browsers to limit or block their usage to protect users’ personal information.
  • Performance Impact: The multitude of cookies generated by websites can lead to a data overload that may slow down web browsers, resulting in a sluggish web experience for users.
  • User Consent: Privacy regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) require websites to obtain user consent before deploying certain types of cookies. This has led to the appearance of pop-up notifications and prompts seeking user approval, which some users find irksome.

Cookies vs Cache

  • The primary purpose of a cache is to store web page elements (e.g., images, stylesheets, scripts) locally on a user’s device to speed up subsequent page loads.
  • Both technologies store data on user’s computer or mobile device. However, they have different purposes and work in different ways.
Parameter Cache Cookies
Basics Stores content from a website and applications to make them more accessible for a user Stores the user’s activities and identifies their trail of preferences
Things Stored Javascript, CSS, HTML pages, media (images and videos), etc. Temporary data for tracking, such as browsing sessions, history of using websites and apps, etc.
Capacity Less memory efficient, occupies a lot of space More memory efficient, takes up very little memory
Location of storage Browser only Both server and browser
Expiration Manual deletion required Automatic expiration after a fixed amount of time
Sent with a request No Yes, requires user confirmation

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