What Are Cookies on a Computer?


Quick Answer

Cookies are small text files that are placed on a computer by a website that contain information that helps identify the user or remember any customized settings when the user visits the site again. Cookies are not dangerous or harmful and actually help to improve the browsing experience.

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Full Answer

When a user visits a website, the site often stores a cookie on the user's computer. The cookie may contain important information such as username, settings, region or other data. The Web browser stores the cookie until the user visits the site that created it again. When this happens, the Web browser then resends the original cookie back to the site to identify the visitor and recall specific information about him.

Sites such as Amazon use cookies to identify a user by his username, which then allows the site to be fully customized based on that user's preferences and past history on the site. This is how Amazon is able to show customized recommendations for each user instantly, something that wouldn't be possible without the use of cookies.

The personal information stored by cookies is only stored on the user's computer, not on the website's server. It is therefore impossible for anyone to gain access to this personal information through the cookie, which only communicates with the appropriate website. Cookies also can't result in viruses or other malicious software infecting the computer for these same reasons.

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