Web Analytics Concepts-Cookies

What is a cookie?
Cookies are small, often encrypted text files used by web developers to help users navigate their websites efficiently and perform certain functions. Cookies are created when a user's browser loads a particular website. The website sends information to the browser which then creates a text file. Every time the user goes back to the same website, the browser retrieves and sends this file to the website's server.

Computer Cookies are created not just by the website the user is browsing but also by other websites that run ads, widgets, or other elements on the page being loaded. These cookies regulate how the ads appear or how the widgets and other elements function on the page.
Cookies can be given to the website visitor by the same domain (http://www.domain.com/) that the web page resides on called First Party Cookies, or could be issued to the website visitor by a web server that is not on the same domain as the website, called Third Party Cookies. Generally third party cookies are issued when are third party is interested in tracking your website visitor traffic

There are two types of cookies:
1. Session cookies-

a) Enables the website you are visiting to keep track of your movement from page  to page

b) Created temporarily in your browser's subfolder while you are visiting a website.

c) The session cookie is deleted once you leave the site or the session ends

d) Allows you to proceed through many pages of a site quickly and easily without having to   authenticate or reprocess each new area you visit.

Eg. The shopping cart feature of e-commerce sites. When you visit one page of a catalog and select some items, the session cookie remembers your selection so your shopping cart will have the items you selected when you are ready to check out.

2. Persistent cookies-
a) Help websites remember your information and settings when you visit them in the future

b) Remain in your browser's subfolder and are activated again once you visit the website that created that particular cookie

c) The duration for which the cookie remains is set within the cookie's file

d) Website features made possible by persistent cookies include: language selection, theme selection, menu preferences, home page selection, internal site bookmarks or favorites etc.

Contents of a cookie:
a) The name of the server the cookie was sent from

b) The lifetime of the cookie

c) A value - usually a randomly generated unique number used to recognize a user

Only the server that sent a cookie can read, and therefore use, that cookie. Due to the little amount of information a cookie contains, it usually cannot be used to reveal your identity or personally identifying information. However, marketing is becoming increasingly sophisticated and cookies in some cases can be aggressively used to create a profile of your surfing habits.

What is cookie profiling?
Cookie profiling, also called web profiling, is the use of persistent or permanent cookies to track a user’s overall activity online.  This tracking does not just happen when you are on a particular site, but it occurs the whole time you are browsing. This kind of profiling activity is often done by marketers who buy advertising rights on thousands of popular websites in order to collect and collate cookie information and create a single “profile” of a user.

How Long Do Cookies Last?
Each cookie has a name and an expiration date. When a web server sends a cookie, it asks your browser to keep that particular cookie until a certain date and time. These dates can be:

a) Some date in the future. This might be a few minutes or a few hours from now (to track something like your shopping cart in an online store). Or the cookie might expire many years in the future — which means the server wants to keep track of your browser for a long time.

b) When you close your browser. This is called a session cookie. The next time you start your browser, the session cookies from the previous session will have vanished.

c) Some date in the past. This is how the server asks a browser to remove a previously-
stored cookie.

For example the expiration date of some common cookies are
Doubleclick Cookie:30 days
Google Analytics Cookie(Used by all Google based sites):30 days
Omniture Cookie:Varies with different plug-ins using these cookies

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