Internet Cookies: Are They As Delicious As They Sound?

Computer scientist Lou Montulli1 invented online cookies in 1994 while he was working for the Internet company Netscape. These pieces of information are gathered when an Internet user accesses a website that uses cookies. Essentially, cookies are fragments of information (i.e. demographic information about you, what types of products you are shopping for, the types of websites you are accessing) that your computer saves when you access websites. A cookies server  can access this information when you go on certain websites. You may have noticed a window that asks whether  you can share with “third-party” information–this is typically cookies accessing your computer. Depending on the website, sometimes users are notified that cookies are being accessed, while others do not make this information as public. The uses of this information could be for targeting marketing, to collect demographic information, or for sales of a specific company2. Cookies are primarily used to store information into a database and customize websites to users. They are essentially “name-value pairs” stored by a website on a user’s computer3.

However, many debate that they are not as scrumptious as they sound. There is controversy as to whether the use of cookies breaches a users’ security and privacy. Proponents of this side think that online consumer behavior (such as browsing habits, how long a user stays on a website) is tracked and is frequently sold to outside companies1, which is unethical for companies to do. The other side believes that the use of cookies contributes to a “better user experience,”3 that is personalized and customized.

Cookies and Public Relations

You may be asking, okay great, but what can cookies do for me as someone who is pursuing Public Relations? Well, although Advertising and Public Relations are separate fields, much of their work is becoming linked through social media. As someone working in the field, cookies can assist Public Relations staff in targeting their audience, finding out more information about their audience, and allow them to track their data as a company. Data tracking has become more popular recently, as social media has been integrated into the Public Relations world. This is the most important reason as to why those in the Public Relations field should understand the basic logistics about internet cookies.

PLUS – Not only will you be dealing with cookies in PR, but you access cookies everyday. Because of the recent debate, public relations employees are going to be influenced by cookie usage and social media’s handle on privacy concerns. It is significant for Public Relations employees to be knowledgable about cookies as they are a main issue in current events and directly affect your job.

For more information, check the resources below. Don’t forget to track your data to learn more about your audience!


1.         Palmer, D. E. (2005). Pop-ups, cookies, and spam: Toward a deeper analysis of the ethical significant of internet marketing practices. Journal of Business Ethics. 58(1/3), 271-280.

2.         Whalen, D. (2002). “The unofficial cookie FAQ”. Cookie Central.

3.         Brain, M. (2012). “How internet cookies work”. How Stuff Works.

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