An HTTP cookie (also called web cookie, Internet cookie, browser cookie, or simply cookie) is a small piece of data sent from a website and stored on the user's computer by the user's web browser while the user is browsing. Cookies were designed to be a reliable mechanism for websites to remember stateful information (such as items added in the shopping cart in an online store) or to record the user's browsing activity (including clicking particular buttons, logging in, or recording which pages were visited in the past). They can also be used to remember arbitrary pieces of information that the user previously entered into form fields such as names, addresses, passwords, and credit card numbers.
Tracking: Tracking cookies are used to track users' web browsing habits. This can also be done to some extent by using the IP address of the computer requesting the page or the referer field of the HTTP request header, but cookies allow for greater precision. This can be demonstrated as follows: If the user requests a page of the site, but the request contains no cookie, the server presumes that this is the first page visited by the user. So the server creates a unique identifier (typically a string of random letters and numbers) and sends it as a cookie back to the browser together with the requested page. From this point on, the cookie will automatically be sent by the browser to the server every time a new page from the site is requested. The server sends the page as usual, but also stores the URL of the requested page, the date/time of the request, and the cookie in a log file. By analyzing this log file, it is then possible to find out which pages the user has visited, in what sequence, and for how long. Corporations exploit users' web habits by tracking cookies to collect information about buying habits. The Wall Street Journal found that America's top fifty websites installed an average of sixty-four pieces of tracking technology onto computers resulting in a total of 3,180 tracking files. The data can then be collected and sold to bidding corporations.
In 2002, the European Union launched the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications, a policy requiring end users' consent for the placement of cookies, and similar technologies for storing and accessing information on users' equipment. In particular, Article 5 Paragraph 3 mandates that storing data in a user's computer can only be done if the user is provided information about how this data is used, and the user is given the possibility of denying this storing operation.
Directive 95/46/EC defines "the data subject's consent" as "any freely given specific and informed indication of his wishes by which the data subject signifies his agreement to personal data relating to him being processed." Consent must involve some form of communication where individuals knowingly indicate their acceptance.
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