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Digital World of Cookies

  • 03 Oct 2023
  • 5 min read

For Prelims: Right to Privacy, Session Cookies, Third-party Cookies, Cross-Site Request Forgery.

For Mains: Challenges Related to Emerging Technologies, Digital Personal Data Protection Act 2023.

Source: TH

Why in News?

As the ever-evolving digital landscape continues to reshape online experiences, cookies emerge as dual agents, serving as indispensable facilitators of personalization and convenience, yet concurrently posing significant challenges in the domains of user privacy and data security

What are Cookies?

  • About:
    • In the realm of computing and web browsing, cookies are small pieces of data stored on a user's device (browser), commonly as text files.
    • These files are generated by the websites a user visits and serve the purpose of retaining information regarding the user's interactions and preferences during their online navigation.
  • Categories of Cookies
    • Session Cookies: Temporary in nature, these cookies function as digital post-it notes for websites, residing in a user's computer memory solely during active browsing sessions.
    • Persistent Cookies: Analogous to digital bookmarks, persistent cookies endure on the user's device beyond the conclusion of a browsing session.
      • They retain and recall information such as login credentials, language preferences, and previous interactions with advertisements.
    • Secure Cookies: Distinguished by their transmission over encrypted connections, these cookies are employed primarily for safeguarding sensitive data, such as login credentials.
    • Third-party Cookies: Originating from domains distinct from the one currently being visited, these cookies are frequently employed for tracking and advertising purposes, offering both utility and the potential for intrusion.
  • Role of Cookies
    • User Authentication: Functioning as digital identity cards, cookies assist websites in recognizing and preserving user login statuses throughout their visits.
    • Personalization: Cookies enable the retention of user preferences, encompassing language selections and website themes.
    • Persistent Shopping Carts: They ensure that items added to online shopping carts remain accessible even upon subsequent returns.
    • Analytics: Cookies aid website proprietors in the collection of valuable data concerning user interactions, thereby facilitating enhancements and tailored content delivery.
    • Targeted Advertising: Advertisers employ cookies to showcase advertisements that correspond with user interests and previous browsing histories, enhancing the allure of online shopping.
  • Associated Challenges
    • Privacy Concerns: Cookies possess the capability to track user online behavior, raising concerns about potential intrusions into digital privacy.
      • Inadequately secured cookies can serve as vulnerabilities exploited by cybercriminals to gain access to and pilfer personal information.
      • Through Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF), attackers can use cookies to perform unauthorized actions on a user's behalf without their consent.
    • Cookie Bloat: Over time, as users visit more websites, cookies accumulate on their devices, consuming storage space and potentially slowing down web browsing.
    • Impact on User Experience: Users may find these frequent consent requests annoying and disruptive to their browsing experience, as they have to interact with these dialogs repeatedly.

Way Forward

  • Balancing Personalization and Privacy: Users must be offered the ability to customize their cookie preferences, allowing them to opt in or out of specific categories of cookies.
    • They should be given personalized privacy dashboards, displaying detailed information about how their data is used (in accordance with India’s Digital Personal Data Protection Act 2023), which cookies are active, and the associated benefits.
    • They should be allowed to specify the expiration date of their consent for cookies, giving them more control over how long their data is stored and used.
  • User Awareness: To educate users, the website should provide clear and accessible information about cookies and their importance for the website's functionality and performance.
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