Pop-ups inform you that a website uses tracking cookies and asks you to give consent. But think twice before automatically clicking accept.

It happens nearly every time you visit a new website. A banner or pop-up appears that often covers a big portion of the webpage. It informs you that the website uses cookies to give you a better browsing experience. Many people never read any details and quickly click “accept” so they can get to the content. What some may not realize is that the accept button allows the website to track you.

The European Union passed the General Data Protection Regulation several years ago in an effort to preserve users’ privacy. Companies based outside of Europe can face major fines if they gather information or track EU visitors to their sites without consent. Since U.S.-based companies want to avoid those penalties, they force the cookie warnings upon all of us, just to be safe.

What are cookies?

Cookies are little pieces of code placed on your browser by a website that helps it recognize you the next time you visit. They are what allow that sweater you placed in your online shopping cart to still be there the next time you log on — users don’t need to re-introduce themselves to the websites each time.

What happens when you accept cookies?

It could allow the website access to data such as browsing history and habits, your IP address, location and personal data like your phone number and address. But tracking isn’t always all bad. When a website knows how you like to browse, it can result in a more customized experience. It can recommend items and ads tailored to what it knows you like. Plus those cookies allow the website to remember your username and password to cut time from the login and checkout processes.

Should I decline cookies?

Know that some websites simply won’t allow you to access it unless you accept cookies; others may restrict features. You should decline cookies if the website is unencrypted because private data like credit card numbers can be vulnerable. Look for an “s” after the “http” in a web address to ensure the website is protected.

Try a browser extension

If you want to avoid going through the process of selecting which cookies you’d like to allow each time you visit a new website, consider a browser extension. These tools can handle cookie pop-ups in a variety of ways. Don’t bother using any add-on that automatically accepts all cookies on every website. You want one that lets you set your preferences and then will automatically apply them to websites without never-ending clicking.

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Super Agent is free and does exactly that. You choose preferences once and the browser extension fills out the consent choices on all supported websites. It won’t share your data with third parties and warns you if a website is ignoring your preferences. Super Agent is available for iPhones and iPads as well as for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Edge, with Opera compatibility coming soon. 

There are also a couple of good options if you don’t want to even have to pick your preferences one time and just want the pop-ups to go away. I don’t care about cookies is a free browser extension that blocks or hides the pop-up. If the website requires consent to work properly, it will accept for you. It is available for Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Opera and Pale Moon. 

For an option to make pop-ups disappear on iOS, try Hush for Safari, iPhone and iPad. It’s full name is the Hush Nag Blocker and promises not to track your behavior, store passwords or collect any data. The developer says it is offered for free and will remain free forever.

Remember the days when you could visit a website without first wading through cookie pop-up fine print every time? That luxury can be yours again. Keep your privacy and your frustration in check by giving a little forethought before clicking “accept” and consider downloading a browser extension that will do it all for you.

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