CookiesCookies. Such an innocent word has a lot of power behind it these days, and it’s not because of American obesity rates. In the world of the web, cookies (a.k.a. “browser cookies,” “HTTP cookies,” “internet cookies,” “web cookies,” etc.) refer to small stores of data within a browser that facilitate access in some way. Yes, there are privacy concerns to be aware of, but these tracking files are not all malicious. Are you automatically logged-in when you go to certain websites? Is your digital shopping cart remembered even if you’ve closed the browser window? Do sales for products that you’ve recently searched for appear on other websites? Cookies are to thank for all of this and more.

Each search query and website visit is independent at its core; the data in cookies speeds the process, personalizing your web surfing experience to your past preferences. If you’ve ever reviewed your browser’s privacy settings, you might have been surprised to see how many web cookies have been downloaded without your knowledge. This is the catch-22s of internet convenience. A lot is happening while you’re unaware. The average user never thinks to consider the many behind-the-scene applications designed to simplify his or her web experience. But if you’ve ever been curious, here’s a primer for you.

We’ve talked about security for making purchases online, but let’s take a moment to focus on the cookie:

5 Top Myths About Web Cookies

  • Myth #1: All cookies are malicious. False. Malware and spyware are real internet threats that users need to take seriously; however, as stated above, cookies are not all designed with evil intents. Simplification, speed, and personalization are often their core functionalities. Many viruses are designed to be able to read the cookies on your machines, but they are designed to read everything. Cookies are just one piece of a virus’s security breach potential.
  • Myth #2: Cookies spy on everything you do online. False. Cookies are small stores of data designed for specific functions on specific websites. Not everything is being stored by them. It may appear that you are being followed when ads appear for products you’ve recently searched for on unrelated sites; however, there’s a backend connection at work on such occasions. Cookies can allow targeted ads based on the websites you’ve visited, but they are only discovering the underlying code of sites pre-designed for such a connection.
  • Myth #3: Cookies are linked to individuals. False. Cookies can identify a user using a specific browser, but personal identifying information isn’t necessarily attached to this user. In fact, if the user were to close one browser (e.g., Chrome) and open another (e.g. Internet Explorer), a cookie could not be 100% sure that these sessions were linked to the same person. Cookies neither follow someone across devices (PC to tablet to phone); nor do they store private information to be recalled at any time and place.
  • Myth #4: Deleting cookies makes your computer faster. False. Cookies are nearly inconsequential when it comes to speed and space on your computer. Due to browser restrictions, these tiny files are rarely much larger than 4 kilobytes. To give you some perspective, this blog is 15 kilobytes as a MS Word document; a video longer than 10 seconds is usually over 25 megabytes (25000 kb). Sure, cookies take up some space on your machine, but they are hardly the root of memory drain.
  • Myth #5: Blocking cookies reduces pop-ups. False. Blocking cookies usually has the opposite effect. Many pop-up advertisements use cookies to track whether a user has already seen a certain ad. If a user has already closed a pop-up window, a cookie often stores that information, so that the same ad will not appear repeatedly, annoying the user and thus becoming ineffective. If a user blocks cookies, a website will not know that a viewer has already seen a pop-up and will therefore show the pop-up every single time a user goes to a certain website.

The digital frontier can be a scary place sometimes, but don’t let the fear-mongering media get to you. Do your homework. Sometimes, the trail of crumbs just leads back to a cookie, and a harmless one at that.

Read more: The Profit: Jackie’s Cookie Connection Crumbles Under the Weight of Considerable Debt