Facebook is watching you! Cookies and everything you need to know about them

Posted on 20-11-2019 at 15:00 in Web development

You've been surfing the internet for a pair of shoes, but they turn out to be too expensive in the webshop you've been browsing. Half an hour later an advertisement pops up of those exact same shoes in a different webshop. A day later and another ad for those shoes presents itself, now slightly cheaper. How?!

The answer is actually quite simple: cookies.

Cookies, wat zijn dat?

Cookies are small files on your computer or mobile phone, often the size of a few bits, containing information. This information will be called for every time the website is visited.
The data contained in those cookies is based on the interaction a user has with the website. This makes sure the website's personalized. Ultimately proposing a better user experience and even a faster website.

Cookies will usually work for a specific amount of time, but can be infinite. An example is the notorious Facebook pixel, which is an infinite cookie.

A website can only look at the cookies it has placed itself, not those by other websites. It can't collect data from other websites. It can't look into other information on your computer either.

However, there is a downside to this...

Social media follow you everywhere

Some cookies are implemented by code that wasn't made by the web developer. So called 'third party code' can be used to implement cookies. For example, social media share buttons. Social media offer code on their own websites for such share buttons that web developers can use. By using this code, however, the web developer gives the third party permission to implement cookies from another website domain (Facebook, for instance).

We briefly mentioned it before: the Facebook pixel. It's a small, invisible pixel on a website that places an infinite cookie. This implemented cookie is notorious because it follows everything a user does on a website. Regardless of whether this person has an account with Facebook and regardless of whether or not it is logged in.
This means that an enormous amount of data is collected. Think of your behavioral patterns, what you find interesting and what you buy online.

This huge pile of information is interesting to companies that want to sell you something. After all, they can send advertisements targeted specifically to you. The website on which you saw the aforementioned shoes, purchases such advertisements. When you visit this website, the heap of purchased data is being searched, looking for what you have recently viewed. Subsequently, an advertisement directed to you is placed.

Types of cookies

Not all cookies are bad to have on your device. There are four different categories of cookies that all serve a different purpose. We've created an overview to better understand the differences between those cookies.

Necessary cookies

These cookies can be used to remember your login credentials. Safely, of course.
Saving temporary information like the content of your shopping cart is also considered a necessary cookie. Even after closing the website and returning at a later moment, your shopping cart will still contain the items you've selected earlier, thanks to these cookies.

Necessary cookies are usually placed temporarily. Each website can have its own time frame for them.

Preference cookies

Some websites offer the option to select preferences. Preferences like selecting a different language, changing the font size or changing regions.
These preferences are saved in a cookie, this way the website can easily recall your preference when you come back to the website later on.

Cookies for statistics

Cookies for statistics are often placed for Google Analytics. These cookies are particularly interesting for the website's owner. They'll show how often a website and its pages are visited, which pages were most searched for and which pages only generated little traffic.
This way the website's owner can optimize the website. Perhaps he's not using the right keywords to show up in desired search results. Location is an important part of this too.

In short, these cookies will help any good SEO.

Tracking cookies

These are the cookies that are responsible for the aforementioned advertisement of those already found shoes. The purpose of tracking cookies is therefore commercial. You can earn money with it.

Facebook is really good at this. All that data you enter in your profile page (gender, age, work, education, holidays, locations, languages, whether you have children, what events you visit, your interests and much more) Facebook uses to sell advertisements that are aimed specifically at you. This is nice for companies that want to sell you something, but less nice for you when you are constantly bombarded with advertisements.

Then there is Google. This search engine will look at your surfing behavior and based on this it will market specific Google Ads at you.

A cookwall is not permitted, a website is required to grant you access.

Cookie law

Many websites use cookies, but not everyone wants these cookies. Especially tracking cookies are often considered a thorn in the side, because a lot of websites do not properly communicate what personal data they collect from you.

As of may 2018 all websites must tell you exactly when and what personal data of you is being collected on their website. Also known as a cookie notice. Websites are now obligated to inform you what cookies are being implemented and you should get the option to switch off some of those cookies.

Not every website has such a cookie notice, as a website isn't obligated to inform you of all type of cookies. For instance, you don't have to inform your visitor of necessary cookies, as well as analytical cookies.

Whether you accept the cookies on a website or not, you should always be allowed to access its public pages. A website cannot hide its content behind a cookie wall. Unfortunately this is still often the case.

Besides asking you for your permission on implementing cookies, a website may not place cookies until you've given them permission to do so. Some websites have a cookie notice that has text along the lines of: 'By using our website, you confirm you accept our use of cookies.' This, however, isn't allowed either. The user has to be able to actively accept the usage of cookies.

In Belgium they’ve had enough of Facebook’s practices. They threaten to fine Facebook with € 250.000 for each day Facebook continues collecting data of activities outside of its own social network. In addition, they must also delete all data that has already been collected.

Source: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-16/facebook-must-stop-tracking-belgian-web-users-court-rules

How do I get those cookies?

Simply by visiting a website you can get cookies. Not every website uses all types of cookies and not every website owner knows what cookies his own website implements.

Whenever you don't get a cookie notice and do see the option to share information via social media, there's usually still tracking cookies being used. Although some websites might use alternatives. Often people are not aware these sharing options implement tracking cookies.

It all seems so easy: copy and paste a small piece of code on your website and your social media sharing button is done. Nothing then tells you this code implements a cookie. Only when you do further research about it will you find out.

Many websites nowadays use Google Analytics. This can be set to anonymize IP addresses. This way a user's behavior will be tracked, but it won't be possible to find out your IP address.

How do I make sure I won't be tracked by cookies?

There are multiple ways to stop being tracked by the cookies.

  1. Install a browser extension or plugin that stops tracking. A couple of examples:
    1. uBlock Origin
    2. NoScript
    3. PrivacyBadger
  2. Use a different browser, one that focuses on privacy, like:
    1. Epic Privacy Browser
    2. Tor
    3. Brave
  3. Block cookie usage in your browser, of block specific cookies.

How do I remove cookies from my browser?

The removal of cookies differs for each browser.

  1. Click on the 3 vertical dots in the right hand top corner of your browser.
  2. Click on Settings.
  3. Click on 'Advanced' at the end of the page to expand the section.
  4. Click on 'Privacy en security' (you'll notice the part on the right will also scroll to privacy and security).
  5. Click on 'Clear browsing data'.
  6. You're now presented with two options:
    1. On the 'Basic' tab set the period to 'All time'. This way you'll remove all cookies ever implemented. You can also select a different period if that's preferred. Keep in mind: this also removes the cookies that remember your login credentials. Make sure you can recall the passwords to important websites.
      1. Be careful and make sure only 'Cookies and site data' is selected, unless you'd also like to remove your browsing history and cached files.
      2. Click on 'Clear data' to remove your cookies.
    2. On the 'Advanced' tab set the period to 'All time'. This way you'll remove all cookies ever implemented. You can also select a different period if that's preferred. Keep in mind: this also removes the cookies that remember your login credentials. Make sure you can recall the passwords to important websites.
      1. Be careful and make sure only 'Cookies and site data' is selected, unless you'd also like to remove the other options available.
      2. Click on 'Clear data' to remove your cookies.
  1. Click on the 3 horizontal lines in the right hand top corner of your browser.
  2. Click on 'Options'. This opens a new tab in your browser.
  3. Click on 'Privacy & Security'.
  4. Scroll to 'Cookies and website data'.
  5. Click on 'Delete data' to delete your cookies.

Note: You can also set Firefox to automatically clear cookies when the browser closes. To do this, check the box under 'Delete cookies and website data as soon as Firefox is closed'.

  1. Click on the gear in the right hand top of your browser.
  2. Hover or click on 'Security', this will open a new menu.
  3. Click on 'Delete browser history...' in the new menu. A new window will appear.
  4. If you really want to delete all cookies, make sure that only 'Cookies and website data' is checked. If you want to keep the data of the website that you have in your favorites, make sure 'Keep data from favorite websites' and 'Cookies and website data' are checked.
  5. Click on 'Delete' to delete your cookies.
  1. Click on the 3 horizontal dots in the right hand top of your browser.
  2. Click on 'Settings'. A menu of settings will slide into your screen.
  3. Click on 'Privacy & security'.
  4. Click on 'Choose what to clear'.
  5. Ensure that only 'Cookies and saved website data' is checked.
  6. Click on 'Clear' to delete the cookies.
  1. Click on 'Safari' on the left side of the menu bar.
  2. Click on 'Clear history...'. A new window will appear.
  3. Click on 'Privacy'.
  4. Click on 'Manage website date...'. A new window appears.
  5. Click on 'Clear all' to delete your cookies.
  1. Click on the gear at the bottom right bar of your browser. A new tab opens.
  2. Click on 'Advanced' to open it.
  3. Click on 'Privacy and security'.
  4. Click on 'Delete browsing data'.
  5. On the 'Basic' tab, set the period to 'Always', this will delete all cookies ever made. You can also set a different period if desired.
    1. Pay attention! This will also delete cookies that are set to log in. So make sure you remember your password for those websites.
  6. Make sure only 'Cookies and other site data' is checked, unless you want to remove your browsing history and cached files as well.
  7. Click on 'Delete data' to delete your cookies.

Onze cookies

Although we use social media buttons in our blog posts, there is no Facebook-pixel. We use an alternative method that does not track your surfing behaviour. In other words: no tracking cookie. The same applies to the other social media sharing options.

We also use anonymized Google Analytics cookies to analyze the traffic on our website. This way we can see which pages you visit, how long you stay there and whether you will return to our website later. All this is done without saving your personal details. You can find more information about this in our cookie policy.