I don't remember when this "accept/cancel cookie" button started to be used in websites. Why do they insist on getting users to click on this button?

Can it do any harm to user's PC or to collect any private and sensitive data? Their reason for this mostly is "For better browsing experience on the website".

Is it possible to use this as a trick for a possible hack? Also my knowledge of cookies and web hacking is not good enough.

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    Exactly as much as any other button, like the "log in" button or the "view cat pictures" button. – immibis Oct 17 at 1:45
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    Exactly as much as any other button, but with the exceptional property that it is far more likely to be clicked by the user without any further thought. – caw Oct 17 at 13:46
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    Possible duplicate of Are EU cookie consent forms safe? – gre_gor Oct 17 at 18:03
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    GDPR was implemented on 25 May 2018, so that is pretty much exactly when the cookie notification/consent stuff started. – trognanders Oct 17 at 19:23
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    "A better experience" = "targeted ads" = "we're trying to take your money". I consider cookies to be evil for just that reason; when all this became an issue in the EU, the response was, now you have to click this button to accept cookies to use that website. What if I want to use the website without accepting cookies? My browser (Firefox) used to have a delete all cookies on exit option, but that was removed; now I run a short script each week that deletes the cookie data base. Works like a charm. – Jennifer Oct 21 at 3:44
up vote 117 down vote accepted

Technically, browsers do not have to ask the user a question in order to use cookies. Furthermore, they are not technically bound to the answer given by the user.

Legally, that is another matter. In the European Union, the websites are now required to ask the user for their consent before using tracking cookies or other means to collect personal data about the user. However, they do not have to ask for the consent of the user to use cookies necessary to provide their service (such as session cookies). Thus, if websites asks to allow cookies, it is in order to legally collect personal data about the user. This data can be considered private or sensitive, depending on the appreciation of the users.

The formulation “For better browsing experience” usually means “In order for us to provide you targeted advertisement, that will earn us more money to make better content.” or “In order for us to provide you targeted advertisement, so you will have (in theory) less irrelevant advertisements”.

A malicious website might not honor their legal obligations. They could ask for the consent and not honor the answer, or they could dispense with asking the question in the first place.

For more information on the law: GDPR on Wikipedia

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    @AidenStewart If that's a concern you should look at browser security settings and addons to block third party cookies, especially known trackers. – IllusiveBrian Oct 16 at 13:18
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    The formulation “For better browsing experience” usually means [better ads] well, it can also be a legitimate better experience. Various small little things can just be preserved in cookies. E.g., if you go to a weather site and enter your locations, those could be saved and then retrieved from a cookie, so even if you don't have an account, you'd get your most frequent locations preserved. Other settings and data could also be preserved for the user to do less work, hence they get better experience. True, a lot of times it's used for advertising but that's not the only use for cookies. – vlaz Oct 16 at 14:06
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    Note that the Cookie questions started with the May 2011 EU Directive, not from the GDPR which is from May 2018. The first one is about cookies, the second deals with all data (eg. transfering info about your purchase to a third party which will build a profile about you... even if cookies aren't used). – Ángel Oct 16 at 15:05
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    @Ángel Unless there was some delay on implementation of the May 2011 directive (I personally am not familiar with it so cannot speak to its content), I suspect it was of a much more limited scope. While many websites had mention of cookies in their footers or terms of service between 2011 and 2018, I certainly did not observe the obnoxious banners requesting consent referred to in this question prior to implementation of GDPR. – jmbpiano Oct 16 at 16:18
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    @vlaz I don't think you are right, because they don't need permission if they need the cookie to provide you with a service. The law is, as far as I know, formulated just so that they don't need permission for everything that is actually in the interest of the user. If they ask for permission, that automatically means that they want to do stuff that a court of law wouldn't necessarily agree is required to improve user experience (which is part of the service). – Nobody Oct 16 at 16:42

A malicious website could harm you without you having to click on anything. However, the fact that the user clicked on a page element simplifies the task: for example, most browsers would automatically block unsolicited popus (which can e.g. trick users into installing malware), but allow a popup in response to a click.

And yes, in my opinion, a standardised button which users are taught to click over and over without a second thought does increase the risk.

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    And yes, in my opinion, a standardised button which users are taught to click over and over without a second thought does increase the risk. similar to an antivirus flagging a lot of false positives that the user is conditioned to ignore or, say, UAC keep bugging you for elevated privilege, so users just grant it to everything. – vlaz Oct 16 at 14:09
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    This is why I don't click either button unless I trust the site. – Wildcard Oct 17 at 1:26
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    I ran into a website the other day where there was a button to enable push notifications laid out in the format you'd expect to find a cookie consent button. Of course I clicked it. The conditioning works. – Will Oct 19 at 9:36

With recent regulations around data privacy, websites are asking for express permission from users to collect their info from cookies.

Cookies do not harm PCs. The data collected from cookies could conceivably be used in ways that users do not like (Cambridge Analytica comes to mind). Those interested in more private and more anonymous browsing would want to reject cookies (but they tend to do this with browser plug-ins anyway).

Could a malicious website use a button on the site to do malicious things? Yes. But that is true for any link on any website, so this button does not increase your risk.

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    You do not keep cookies safe. You allow their usage or not. Cookies are a mean for websites to store data on the user's web browser, in a way that will persist across restarts and across websites that use the same tracking services (such as advertisement provider or Facebook "like" buttons). – A. Hersean Oct 16 at 12:31
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    Just to expand further, if someone wanted to be malicious with cookies. They can just do this via javascript when a page is loaded, or even the initial http response you get from their server before anything is loaded in the browser. There's no need for a user to click on anything. – Sean T Oct 16 at 13:32
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    @AidenStewart A cookie can only be access from the same domain/website so you don't have to do anything to "keep them safe". Evil.com can't get your cookie from Example.com – Skuld Oct 16 at 13:33
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    and since every other website now has such a prompt, i am developing a habit to press this button without much thought, just to make the question go away. for any other link that habit does not apply, and any such link would be considered with greater scrutiny. – eMBee Oct 16 at 16:32
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    @eMBee clicking links without thinking is a consistent risk that does not change in this scenario, regardless of the new purpsoes – schroeder Oct 16 at 16:35

Yes, but not more than any other button or link.

The main concern is clickjacking. Somebody who knows exactly where you will click can try to move another click target at this position in the moment you are clicking, so you may for example click "delete my account" on another site opened in an iframe.

Furthermore clicks sometimes unlock more permissions, e.g. all modern browsers disallow popups, except you clicked on something to open the popup. So sometimes sites will lead you to click on something, so they can open a new popup/tab.

This of course applies to any button in a website, so the "accept cookie" button is not worse than a "click here to enter the website" button.

Malicious like what? Identity usurpation?

Some time ago on Facebook, timelines of several friends showed some suggestive/clickbait link to videos with a false youtube thumbnail. When you clicked on it, a popup appeared asking if the user was human by clicking on a single button.

Clicking on the button silently liked or shared a content on Facebook (because you were still logged in) which published that on your timeline.

As other say : you can hide anything behind any link and the only thing that let you click is trust.

  • When you arrive on that kind of site, check the ads (embedded ads everywhere or adblock counter exploding). If there are too many, leave.
  • Quick google the information provided in the title of a link instead of clicking on it. You might find a Youtube video which is more secure.
  • You really want to see that? Right-click and open in a private window.
  • Learn to detect clickbait and spread the word to your friends not to fall into that trap.

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