How to clear cookies in popular browsers?

Anton P. | February 2, 2021

The decision to clear cookies does not necessarily mean you munch a plate of baked goods in one sitting. In the digital world, cookies refer to small files stored on your device. They are souvenirs you end up getting from almost every website you visit. Not all cookies are the same: some facilitate fluid browsing, and their absence could trigger unwanted side effects. However, others are less welcome as their primary purpose is to track users’ actions across the web. They power up the advertising ecosystem by supplying insights into consumers’ behaviors. Luckily, you can choose to clear cookies you have accumulated over time.

What are cookies?

Cookies are files that hold information about users’ actions and preferences online. Initially, they were primarily for reducing costs and managing dozens of incoming clients. Descendants from magic cookies, web cookies emerged to store user information locally (on users’ devices) instead of company servers. Thus, websites extended their memory and could recognize returning users quickly.

Cookies are an indispensable part of webmasters’ routines. One of the contributions is differentiating between unique and returning visitors. This distinction provides more accurate analytics and performance statistics.

Thanks to cookies, our browsing is continual when we refresh or open new pages on a website. Without them, you would need to log in every time you move across areas of a website. Let’s take online shopping as an example. Cookies ensure that websites retain products in your cart instead of resetting it when you open new products. Thus, you can grasp the essential role cookies play in our digital lives. In the absence of cookies, websites would treat visitors like strangers, and free-flowing browsing would be impossible.

So far, cookies are useful: they aid and simplify browsing. However, they also pave the way for consumer tracking. Cookies are the reason your visits to Amazon influence the ads you see on Facebook the next day. Netizens and law regulations (such as GDPR) recognize cookies’ potential to violate privacy. The industry now relies on consent, which users give via pop-ups. Thus, you will likely notice cookie notifications every time you go online. However, consumers typically agree with cookie policies without ever reading them. The recommendation is to reject third-party cookies, which websites might present as “advertising cookies.” In some cases, browsers can do this for you automatically.

Types of cookies you encounter online

First-party cookies

These small containers of user data belong to the websites you visit directly. They are responsible for remembering your preferences, usernames, and details you might have provided. When you browse on a website, it recognizes you through your cookie’s unique ID. As a result, it can retain information about your experience for future reference. Hence, even if you leave the website, it will recognize you when you decide to come back.

Third-party cookies

These files, as their name suggests, do not belong to the website you visit directly. Websites tend to have many elements hosted by third-parties: ads, banners, buttons, etc. In turn, these components save their own cookies to your device, alongside the first-party ones. Typically, third-party cookies are central participants in cross-site tracking, retargeting, and personalization.

Let’s say you visit an online store selling skincare products. That particular website uses cookies from Facebook, which knows about your new interest. The store you visited can instruct Facebook to display ads to people who have visited it last month. However, advertisers acquire such data from thousands of websites. Therefore, they can build extensive consumer profiles. The data you generate while browsing can indicate your lifestyle, beliefs, shopping habits, preferences, location, and so much more.

Thus, when people want to clear cookies from their devices, they will likely mean getting rid of third-party cookies. Some browsers have taken the liberty to block them by default (such as Mozilla and Safari). At the moment, Chrome allows people to block third-party cookies via settings. However, the tech giant hopes to phase them out by 2022.

Other types of cookies

  • Session cookies. These cookies are active on your device until you close your browser. The browser is responsible for indicating when the session ends. In some cases, cookies could exist indefinitely when you restore or restart sessions.
  • Permanent cookies. These cookies reside in your device according to their expiration dates. It might be useful if it remembers your login credentials. However, they also can exist and track your online actions for a longer period. The expiration date depends on the web server issuing cookies.
  • Supercookies. Differently from other data containers, supercookies work at a network layer as opposed to the local option. Their purposes mirror traditional cookies, but they won’t budge when you clear cookies from your browsers.
  • Second-party cookies. This term is relatively new in the industry, and it reveals collaborations between businesses. However, its importance will only grow as we approach the end of third-party cookies. Essentially, it means that websites generating first-party cookies share them with other entities. Thus, it typically involves partnerships: one company supplying data to another.

How to clear cookies in your browser?

Note that these instructions will help you clear all cookies, including first-party and third-party ones. Thus, you won’t automatically sign in to websites you commonly visit and shopping carts won’t retain products you chose. In simpler terms, websites will treat you as a new visitor. They will no longer have the memory of your previous visits and preferences.

Another important thing is that websites will continue recreating cookies. Therefore, blocking third-party cookies might be an option for you. However, you might want to keep first-party cookies so that websites continue recognizing you.

Clear cookies from computer devices:

Google Chrome:

  1. Click the three vertical dots in the right corner of your browser. Find and open “Settings.”

  1. Continue to “Privacy and Security.”

  1. Pick the “Clear browsing data” option.

  1. Specify the time range and mark the “Cookies and other site data” checkbox.
  2. End by clicking the “Clear data” button.

Mozilla Firefox:

  1. Click on the three lines in the right corner of your browser. Choose “Preferences.”

  1. Scroll to find “Privacy & Security.”

  1. Select “Clear Data…

  1. Mark the “Cookies and Site Data” checkbox.
  2. End by clicking the “Clear” button.

Microsoft Edge:

  1. Click the three dots in the top right corner and pick “Settings.”

  1. Navigate to “Privacy, Search, and Services.”

  1. Find the “Clear browsing data” section.

  1. Select “Choose What to Clear.”

  1. Mark the “Cookies and other site data” checkbox.
  2. Click “Clear Now.”

Safari:

  1. Click “Safari” at the top left corner and find “Preferences.”

  1. Navigate to the “Privacy” tab and open “Manage Website Data.”

  1. Choose which cookies to clear, click “Remove” and then “Done.”

Clear cookies from mobile devices:

Google Chrome:

  1. Click on the three-dot button at the right corner of your browser and move to “Settings.”

  1. Find “Privacy and security.”

  1. Tap the “Clear browsing data” option.

  1. Mark the checkbox for “Cookies and site data.” You can also select the time range.

  1. Click “Clear Data.”

Mozilla Firefox:

  1. Click on the three-dot button and find “Settings.”

  1. Navigate to “Delete browsing data” in the “Privacy and security” section.

  1. Mark the “Cookies” checkbox and clear cookies by clicking the “Delete browsing data” button.

Microsoft Edge:

  1. Click the three-dot button and open “Settings.”

  1. Find “Privacy and Security.”

  1. Scroll down until you see “Clear browsing data.”

  1. Mark the “Cookies and site data” checkbox. End by clicking the “Clear” button.

Safari:

  1. Go to your iPhone settings and open “Safari.”

  1. Find the “Clear History and Website Data.”

  1. In the presented message, click “Clear History and Data” again to confirm.

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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