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Website Cookies: Nuts or No Nuts?

116 & West

Website Cookies

“Did you clear your cookies and cache?”

Do you get asked this question? Our development team frequently asks us this when they’re making website improvements and bug fixes. For those of us already in that habit, we tend to beat them to it and exclaim, “YES, I CLEARED MY COOKIES AND CACHE!” But what are those cookies, anyways? I promise they’re not as good as chocolate chips, but they do provide marketers helpful insights on user behavior and stated information. Our developer, Andy, weighs in on how cookies fit into advertising:

What is a cookie?

It is a snippet of text that a website can store on your computer. Cookies are pieces of data that are persistent from page to page. Normally, when you make a website, all the data available is on that one page. Cookies allow websites to store data as you navigate from page to page.

What is it for?

It can be used for a lot of different things. Cookies are used by the website to track things about you. That could be things that the website itself defines, like whether you’re logged into the website or not. When you log in and input your password, the website will set a cookie saying you’ve successfully logged in. Cookies can be used when you add stuff to your shopping cart. Sometimes websites will ask you your preferred language—cookies can track that. Those are all common uses of cookies.

How does this relate to advertising?

Advertisers track your browsing history through third-party cookies. Anytime someone integrates with Facebook or Google—any pages that use Google Analytics, Google Ads, Facebook pixels—advertisers track who visits that page with cookies.

What’s the concern about cookies?

Security concerns. That’s what prompted the EU cookie laws, where websites have to declare if they’re using third-party cookies to track browsing behavior. The concern is the lack of disclosure if people are invading privacy or selling that information.

What if someone doesn’t allow cookies?

That doesn’t wipe out the browsing history that the advertiser has accrued. Sometimes advertisers can link back to your history and find ways to figure out you’re the same person. Clearing cookies doesn’t prevent people from tracking. As soon as you hit another page, another third-party cookie will start tracking. Clearing cookies will clear out sites you’re logged into, clearing out all of the session cookies. This can be necessary if there’s a bug in the software, which is why we say, “Try clearing your cookies.”

What are the positive aspects of cookies?

Cookies help advertisers who aren’t necessarily gaming the system to provide better ads to people. They can deduct from browsing history for personal preferences. Someone on radio control car websites (Jackie found this oddly specific)—may want to buy something like that. Or handbags (That’s more like it)—any ad you see related to things you like is tracked from cookies.

Andy’s Favorite Cookies (taken from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home):

2 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces 55% chocolate, cut into chip-sized pieces (about 1 1/4 cups)
5 ounces 70 to 72% chocolate, cut into chip-sized pieces (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup packed dark brown sugar, preferably molasses sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

Position the oven racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift the flour and baking soda into a medium bowl. Stir in the salt. Put the chips in a fine-mesh basket strainer and shake to remove any chocolate “dust” (small fragments).

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat half the butter on medium speed until fairly smooth. Add both sugars and the remaining butter, and beat until well combined. Then beat for a few minutes, until the mixture is light and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until the first one is incorporated before adding the next, and scraping the bowl as necessary. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine. Mix in the chocolate.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold the dough with a spatula to be sure that the chocolate is evenly incorporated. The dough or shaped cookies can be refrigerated, well-wrapped, for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 weeks. Freeze shaped cookies on the baking sheets until firm, then transfer to freezer containers. (Defrost frozen cookies overnight in the refrigerator before baking.)

Using about 2 level tablespoons per cookie, shape the dough into balls. Arrange 8 cookies on each pan, leaving about 2 inches between them, because the dough will spread. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the tops are no longer shiny, switching the position and rotating the pans halfway through baking.

Cool the cookies on the pans on cooling racks for about 2 minutes to firm up a bit, then transfer to the racks to cool completely. Repeat to bake the remaining cookies. (The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)

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