Cookies can sound complicated and even scary if all you know is that they save information about the sites you've been to, but cookies are generally harmless and even helpful to your browsing experience. Cookies help you make browsing more efficient by saving small pieces of information about the sites you visit.
Many sites involve filling in a form, collecting information about your interests and preferences regarding how you want the site to be viewed. Instead of forcing you to fill the form in during every visit, a site might store a cookie on your computer. This is done because the servers on the website's end of the connection have no memory to store your preferences. These preferences are often as simple as having your name displayed on the page when it loads.
Another function of cookies is to see how you browse a particular website. This is to help designers make their page somewhat easier to navigate and more interesting to visitors. One reason a designer might want to track your browsing patterns is to detect "dead-end paths" in their website, or the pages that visitors end on before navigating away to another website. The cookies' main function in this case is discerning whether there have been multiple visitors or one visitor viewing the site multiple times.
Many sites that run a shopping cart system rely on cookies to remember who you are. Disabling cookies will sometimes make these systems unable to work properly. This can result in you losing your items and not being able to make purchases on the website. If you are unsure how to allow these while preventing malicious cookies, these systems will usually still work if you only disable "third-party cookies," which are cookies unrelated to the specific website you are navigating.
Cookies cannot cause a virus because they generally only store text. Malicious cookies are not cookies that harm your computer in any way, but cookies that potentially send information to sources without your knowledge. This is done to try to monitor your interests. After a company has taken your personal information and interests, they might go on to sell the information to one or many marketing firms. Many browsers have methods of deleting cookies, and most antivirus software will detect and remove any malicious cookies from your computer.
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