Computer cookies are not, alas, a baked good. Rather, they are a small text files that help identify a website identify a computer. Once the website “tags” the computer, it creates a related file that records data the user may have volunteered, the number of visits made, the pages viewed, and other data that may help the website “remember” you when you return to the website again.
Some computer cookies are temporary. These “session cookies” are only placed in the browser during the duration of the Internet session, and are deleted the second you turn off Internet access. Permanent cookies, on the other hand, become part of the hard drive. Even if you delete them, the website will recreate them the next time you go there again.
Cookies were invented to help websites keep track of data after you registered at a website. Let’s say you sign up to become a member of a forum—how would you be able to gain access the next time you return? OR how can it keep track of you as a unique user as you go through the different pages? You’d have to reenter your password each time you clicked on a link. Permanent cookies also lead to useful browsing features such as automatic registration logon, website preferences, and saving items on a shopping cart.
But like all technology cookies can be abused. Websites can track how a person surfs, and then sell the information to marketers. Companies also developed complex profiling programs that could “target” a consumer based on psychographic or demographic information.