For almost any modern website to work properly, it needs to collect certain basic information in relation to its users. To do this, a site will create small text files known as cookies on the visiting devices. These cookies are designed to allow the website to recognise its users on subsequent visits, or to authorise other designated websites to recognise these users for a particular purpose.
Cookies carry out various functions which make the experience of users of the Internet much smoother and more interactive, such as remembering the sites visited more often, remembering user IDs, etc. Most of the data that they collect is anonymous, though some of it is designed to detect browsing patterns and approximate geographical location to improve user experience.
Some websites may also contain images called ‘web beacons’ (also known as ‘clear gifs’). Web beacons only collect limited information, including a cookie number, a timestamp, and a record of the page on which they are placed. Websites may also carry web beacons placed by third party advertisers. Web beacons do not carry any personally identifiable information and are only used to track the effectiveness of a particular campaign.
Information collected by cookies and web beacons is not personally identifiable.
Types of cookies
Persistent cookies remain on a user’s device for a set period of time specified in the cookie. They are activated each time the user visits the website that created that particular cookie.
Session cookies are temporary. They allow website operators to link the actions of a user during a browser session. A browser session starts when a user opens the browser window and finishes when they close the browser window. Once the browser window is closed, all session cookies are deleted.
Cookies also have four main functions, which allow their categorisation to strictly necessary cookies, performance cookies, functionality cookies and targeting or advertising cookies.
Strictly necessary cookies are essential for navigating around a website and using its features. Such cookies do not gather information about users which could be used for marketing and do not keep a memory of navigation history.
Performance cookies collect anonymous data for statistical purposes on how visitors use a website, they don’t contain personal information, and are used to improve the experience of navigating through a website. Information supplied by performance cookies helps in better understanding the use of a site, i.e. whether a particular user has visited the site before, what that user looked at or clicked on, etc. This site generally uses independent analytics companies to perform such cases, so these cookies may be set by a third party company (third party cookies).
Functionality cookies allow users to customise how a website loads on their screen in terms of remembering usernames, language preferences and regions, and other factors depending on the functionalities of a website.
Advertising and targeting cookies are used to deliver advertisements more relevant to users, but can also limit the number of times a user sees an advertisement. Also they can be used to chart the effectiveness of an ad campaign by tracking users’ clicks. They can also provide security in transactions. They are usually placed by third-party advertising networks with a website operator’s permission, but can be placed by the operator themselves. They can remember that a user has visited a website and this information can be shared with other organisations. However, the data collected is never linked to the profile of a user.
Examples of use of different categories of cookies are as follows:
Strictly necessary: Setting unique identifiers for each unique visitor, so site numbers can be analysed.
Performance: Gathering data about visits to the website, including numbers of visitors and visits, length of time spent on the site, pages clicked on or where visitors have come from.
Functionality: Remembering if a user has visited the website before so that messages intended for first-time users are not displayed.
Control of cookies
Any preferences are lost if a user deletes cookies and many websites will not work properly or will lose some of their functionality. It is, therefore, not recommend turning cookies off when using this website.
Most browsers accept cookies automatically, but the settings of a browser can be altered (by visiting the “options” or “preferences” menu of a browser) to erase cookies or prevent automatic acceptance. Generally a user has the option to see which cookies are in place and delete them individually, block third party cookies or cookies from particular sites, accept or reject all cookies.