The pros and cons of disabling cookies
Should I delete cookies from my computer?
There’s a lot of confusion around cookies — the tiny text files that get saved in your browser. Cookies are responsible for remembering your personal information and internet browsing preferences, like your favorite websites and preferred language settings. Though cookies were designed to facilitate internet browsing, they can also infringe on your online privacy.
That’s because many websites use a version of cookies called “third-party cookies” — also known as “tracking cookies” — to gather users’ personally identifiable information (PII). Using third-party cookies, companies and websites can collect and analyze information on your location, job, finances, shopping habits, and more.
Although the EU Cookie Law requires websites to get consent from visitors before using tracking cookies, most websites force visitors to consent. For example, some sites don’t allow you to continue past a certain web page unless you click a button that says you agree to having your cookies stored. Other sites use opt-out policies, which means that unless you find and un-check a pre-checked box, you automatically agree to having your cookies stored if you browse the site.
The prevalence of tracking cookies has led many people to delete their cookies in an attempt to regain their privacy. But how effective is that strategy? Should you delete cookies from your computer? Keep reading to find out what happens when you clear your cookies, and what the advantages and disadvantages are of wiping your cookies clean.
What happens if I delete cookies?
When you delete cookies from your computer, you erase information saved in your browser, including your account passwords, website preferences, and settings. Deleting your cookies can be helpful if you share your computer or device with other people and don’t want them to see your browsing history. However, getting rid of your cookies also comes with consequences.
Pros of deleting cookies
Deleting your cookies can help you regain a bit of privacy. Not only will you have more privacy if you share your device with another person, but you’ll also have more privacy from website hosts who use persistent cookies, or cookies that get saved for long periods of time.
Without your cookies, website hosts won’t be able to count how many times you visit their sites, nor will they be able to create a digital persona based on your personal information. You may see fewer targeted ads as a result.
However, the main appeal of deleting your cookies is that it gives you a clean slate. By deleting cookies, you can start fresh and choose the types of cookies you want to accept on each site going forward.
Cons of deleting cookies
Deleting your cookies makes online browsing less convenient. After you clear your cookies, your browser won’t remember the URLs of your favorite websites, nor will it save any items you had in your virtual shopping carts.
Without cookies, you’ll be logged out of all your online accounts, which means you’ll have to re-enter your login information and reset your website preferences. The ads and suggestions you see online may also be less relevant to you.
It’s important to keep in mind that deleting cookies doesn’t eliminate all data tracking. Many websites can reconstruct your cookies, unless you clear your cache and browsing history, too. Even then, though, your device can still be fingerprinted. Companies and internet service providers can identify you by gathering information on your device’s browser type, operating system, screen resolution, and unique plugins.
How to delete cookies from different browsers
If you decide to delete your cookies — whether to minimize targeted ads or give yourself a clean browsing slate — here’s what you need to do:
- Chrome: When your browser is open, click Chrome in the top left corner, then click Preferences. Scroll down on the Settings page, then click Advanced. Find and click Clear Browsing Data. From here, you can select which items to clear, like your Browsing history or Cookies and other site data. Once you select your options, click Clear Data.
- Firefox: Look for the Settings button in the top right corner (shown as three horizontal lines). Click Options, then click Privacy and Security. Under Cookies and Site Data, click Manage Data. You can then delete individual cookies by scrolling through the list and selecting certain sites, or clicking the button that says Remove All.
- Safari: When your browser is open, Click Safari in the top left corner, then click Preferences. Under the Privacy tab, click the button that says Manage Website Data. From here, you can select individual websites to remove, or simply select the option that says Remove All.
Should I delete cookies?
Deciding whether or not you should delete cookies comes down to preference. Depending on your browsing habits, lifestyle, and privacy needs, deleting your cookies can either give you peace of mind or cause you unnecessary inconveniences.
Consider deleting your cookies if:
- You’re concerned about the amount of your PII available online
- You’ve experienced a data breach
- You have a record of your various account usernames and passwords
- You don’t mind having to log back into your online accounts
On the other hand, you may not want to delete your cookies if:
- You’re comfortable with the amount of your PII available online
- You don’t know all your account usernames and passwords
- You enjoy the speed and convenience of your current browsing set-up
- You’d rather change your browser settings instead
Whether you delete cookies or not, it’s still a good idea to reconfigure your browser settings to block third-party cookies and prevent certain sites from saving your cookies.
How to protect your internet privacy
There are a handful of things you can do to improve your online privacy beyond deleting cookies. Here are two of the most impactful steps you can take:
1. Use a tracker blocker
Most websites record your online behavior using third-party cookies. By collecting information on your shopping habits, browsing preferences, job, location, age, and finances, they can create a digital persona and send you targeted ads. Some companies even sell users’ personal information to advertisers.
Using a tracker blocker can help you exercise more control over your personal information. This tool hides your digital activity from third parties, in turn reducing the amount of personal information companies can collect on you. Not only does this result in fewer unwanted ads, but it also keeps you better protected in case of a data breach.
2. Update your app permissions
Every app you download needs access to a certain amount of personal information to function. However, some apps take advantage of this exchange by requesting access to personal information they don’t need, like your contact list or audio files.
That’s why it’s crucial to review and change your app permissions. Start by looking at your apps to see what types of information they collect; from there, you can decide what you’re comfortable sharing. For example, you may want to give your GPS app access to your location only when you’re using the app, instead of all the time.
Follow these instructions to change your settings:
- iPhone: Go to Settings, then click Privacy. Start by clicking Location Services to see which apps have access to your location information. You can change each app’s permission to Never, While Using, or Always. Next, click on the other categories, like Contacts, Photos, Microphone, and Camera to see which apps have access to this information. From there, you can enable, disable, or personalize your permissions.
- Android: Go to Settings, then click Apps or Application Manager. Select the app you want to review, click Permissions, then turn the permissions On or Off.
Put privacy back in your hands
If you want more control over your cookies, consider using a privacy app. FigLeaf is an all-in-one tool that lets you dictate your level of online privacy. We know privacy is a personal choice, and that your needs change from day to day. Using our app, you can browse the web privately, enable a tracker blocker to hide your personal information, and set the exact level of privacy you want on each site you visit.