A cookie is a little snippet of data that websites can save to systems of users connecting to them. While web browsers ship with options to block cookies by default or prompt users for action, the default way of handling cookies is to allow them to be saved automatically.
Cookies are not necessarily bad as they can be used for a variety of legitimate purposes such as saving the logged in state of a user or site preferences without account.
Cookies do have a bad reputation though which comes from the fact that they are used for tracking purposes. Generally speaking, you need to distinguish between first and third party cookies.
First party cookies are saved by the hostname you are on. If you visit Ghacks and my site would save a cookie to your system, that would be a first party cookie.
Third party cookies on the other hand are saved by external domain names, say a Facebook or Google ads cookie. This only happens if the site has embedded third party scripts on the other hand most of the time.
So, if you see Google Analytics or Google Ads being used on a site, chance is high that Google third party cookies are saved to your system.
Since services that drop cookies on systems can process those cookies whenever sites that embed their scripts are accessed, it is possible to use them for tracking purpose.
Find out how many cookies are saved on your computer right now
The first thing you may want to check is how many cookies are saved on your system right now. Note that cookies are browser and profile dependent. If you use multiple browsers or different profiles, then you will notice that cookies are independent of each other in this case.
- Tap on the Alt-key on your keyboard and select Tools > Options.
- Switch to Privacy and select Show Cookies. Note that this is only visible on the page if you have set the history to "use custom settings for history".
- The cookies window displays sites and the cookies they have saved to your system.
Google Chrome (native)
- Load chrome://settings/cookies in the browser's address bar.
Internet Explorer (native)
- Press the Alt-key and select Tools > Internet Options.
- Select the General tab if it is not active and click on the Settings button.
- Here you need to click on View files which opens the temporary Internet files folder in Windows Explorer.
- IE Cookies View displays all Internet Explorer cookies saved to the system (Windows-only).
- Mozilla Cookies View does the same for Mozilla-based browsers (Windows-only).
- Chrome Cookies View does the same for Chrome-based browsers (Windows-only).
Find out which cookies a site saves to your system
The easiest way to find out how many cookies a site saves to your system is to use the Developer Tools that are included in your browser of choice.
- Hit F12 to open the Developer Tools of the browser.
- Switch to the storage tab here and load websites as usual in the browser.
- Once you do, all cookies that a site saves are displayed here among other information.
- Hit F12 to open the Developer Tools window in Chrome.
- Switch to resources and there to cookies.
- Here you find all cookies listed by the site in the active tab.
- Hit F12 to open the Internet Explorer Developer Tools.
- Switch to Network > Details, and there to cookies.
- All cookies saved by the site in the active tab are listed here.
What you can do with those information
Now that you know how many and which cookies sites save to your system, you may want to do something about it. One of the easiest options is to disable third-party cookies completely in the browser.
Firefox: Press Alt, select Tools > Options, then Privacy > Use custom settings for history under History, and there Never next to "accept third-party cookies".
Chrome: Load chrome://settings/ in the browser, click on show advanced settings, then on Content Settings. There you check "block third-party cookies and site data".
Internet Explorer: Tap on the Alt-key and select Tools > Internet Options. Switch to Privacy and click on Advanced there. Check "Override automatic cookie handling" and switch third-party cookies to block.
Opera: Load opera://settings/, switch to Privacy & security, and make sure "block third-party cookies and site data" is checked there.
You can also switch the settings to prompt instead. This will displays a prompt whenever a site wants to save a cookie to your system.
An alternative to that are browser extensions that may provide you with a variety of excellent features. Here is a small selection of tools:
Cookie Controller for Firefox improves cookie management in the browser.
Self-Destructing Cookies for Firefox removes cookies automatically when you leave a site.
Tab Cookies for Chrome deletes cookies once you close a tab.
Favor another add-on? Please share it in the comment section below.
Now Read: How to delete cookies on a computer