Before looking at essential cookies, let’s have a look at internet cookies in general. These cookies, also known as HTTP cookies, are text files that some servers create when you connect to them. They contain short strings of information about you, like your username and password, and are labeled with a unique ID.
This unique identifier is associated with you and the device you used to connect to that server. It’s by exchanging these cookies with your device that the web server is able to serve you content that’s tailored to you. This can include saved shopping cart contents, appearance settings like dark mode, and other conveniences.
Cookies also present a huge privacy and security risk to users. They can be, and routinely are, used to track users on and across websites, spying on their every move, and collecting personal data. This data is then sold to the highest bidder or used to inundate you with obnoxious and intrusive ads.
Essential cookies, also known as strictly necessary cookies, are the cookies without which a website cannot function properly. As the name suggests, these cookies are necessary for the website to provide whatever service it’s designed to provide or to facilitate data transmission over networks.
Here are some examples of essential or functional cookies:
Session cookies keep users logged in when on websites that require an account or other authentication. Without these cookies, the web server would fail to recognize the user after a refresh and all their personalized content and settings would disappear.
Persistent cookies are where users’ preferences are saved. Things like language preferences, dark/light modes, and login credentials are stored in these cookies, allowing websites to “remember” a user’s preferences across sessions.
Some cookies are used exclusively to save the contents of your shopping cart when you navigate away from or close an online shopping platform before completing the check-out process.
The main difference between essential and non-essential cookies is that websites will function with non-essential cookies disabled or blocked while the same can’t be said for essential cookies. The way these two types of cookies are treated by data privacy protection laws also differs.
The European Union’s (EU’s) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), for example, doesn’t require user consent for essential cookies to be loaded onto a user’s device when accessing a website. It is illegal under EU law for non-essential cookies to be added to users’ devices automatically.
There is no difference between functional and essential cookies: these are just two names for the same thing. Essential cookies are also known as strictly necessary cookies.
Tracking cookies are one example of non-essential cookies. They’re mainly used by unscrupulous advertisers and marketers to keep tabs on users’ movements on and between websites. This tracking data is then used to target individuals with obnoxious advertising or sold on to third parties.
Yes, in most if not all jurisdictions, essential cookies are legal. Their purpose is to improve user experience and they’re not supposed to be used for anything beyond that. So essential cookies are generally considered part of the machinery that makes the modern internet work.