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Everything You Need to Know About Third-Party Cookies

By Anas Baig | Reviewed By Maria Khan
Published August 10, 2023 / Updated March 1, 2024

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When browsing the web, there's a high chance that you've come across a popup notification telling you that the website uses cookies. Many times, users go ahead and hit agree without fully knowing what they are signing up for. For all you know, you agree to first-party or third-party cookies.

Internet cookies aren't those artery-clogging goodness made by grandma. Instead, an internet cookie is a small piece of data from a particular website stored on a user's computer while they browse the web.

One of the common purposes of internet cookies is to track users as they browse through multiple websites and display them with personalized ads (based on their web searches, likes, and dislikes). Before further ado, let's get down to third-party cookies, how they collect user data, and their legal implications.

What are Third-Party Cookies?

Unlike a first-party cookie set by the website's server, a third-party cookie is usually set by a third-party domain/server (i.e. an ad-based vendor). Third-party cookies are dropped via a specific vendor code or tag deployed on a particular website and stored under a different domain. A third-party cookie is available to any website that loads the third-party server's code.

Third-party cookies have multiple purposes, such as keeping track of users' browsing activities to show them personalized ads of goods and services. For instance, if you search for a Halloween costume, you may see your screen filled with ads regarding Halloween costumes on multiple websites, especially on social media sites such as Facebook.

Even if the user terminates the session or closes their browser, ads will continue targeting as the tracking data is stored on the users’ computer.

Simultaneously, cookies also have native functions such as remembering a user's login credentials for a particular website, enabling them to instantly log in without manually adding their email address and password.

How Third-Party Cookies Work?

Third-party cookies work by embedding JavaScript from one website into another. This enables them to transfer the habits of a user across multiple websites. Third-party cookies accumulate data gathered between browsing sessions and map a clear picture of the user.

For instance, when users are on a shopping site, they browse through multiple categories, scrolling through the items they like. Typical cookies injected by the shopping site would allow it to remember the things a user has looked at and added to their cart. On the other hand, third-party cookies would not forget this data but may share it with other websites.

With third-party cookies in place, once you revisit the site, you will be shown the items you've previously looked at along with related articles that you might like (based on your previous selections). Again, the primary aim of such third-party cookies storing a user's online activity is to increase the likelihood of a conversion.

Users who scratch their heads thinking why they're being displayed ads on sites they're visiting for the first time, the answer is most of the time simple – third-party cookies. Third-party cookies are one of the most reliable ways to send users targeted ads across the web.

First-Party vs. Third-Party Cookies

First-Party Cookies

First-party cookies are primarily used to improve how users interact with websites and are made by the host domain, which is the website you visited. These are accepted as an agreement between the user and the website to improve operations and are not controversial.

First-party cookies connect your browser to the website and exchange only the most fundamental data. There isn't much debate about their application. First-party cookies only save the data you provide on the website and maybe your IP address.

Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies are crafted by external sources, not the website owner. These are considered "non-essential cookies" under data privacy laws. A lot of these cookies, mostly tracking cookies from marketing firms, display ads for items similar to your purchases or cart additions, largely because of online tracking.

In short, first-party cookies are linked to a particular website. To make the website easier to use, they retain some personal information. On the other hand, third-party cookies allow an external party to monitor your online purchases and other activities.

Are Third-Party Cookies Safe?

Cookies set by third parties aren't a big risk. Cookies aren't inherently dangerous, and they don't infect your computer with malicious viruses or malware. To some users, however, cookies may be considered an invasion of privacy.

How to Enable Third-Party Cookies?

Depending on your browser, you can use the instructions below to enable third-party cookies.

Google Chrome

To enable cookies in Google Chrome (Windows):
  1. Select the Chrome menu icon
  2. Select Settings.
  3. Near the bottom of the page, select Show Advanced Settings.
  4. In the “Privacy” section, select Content Settings, then Cookies.
  5. Ensure the slider is off to Block third-party cookies on the cookies page.
  6. Close and reload the browser.
To enable cookies in Google Chrome (Mac):
  1. Open Chrome preferences, click Settings, then Show Advanced Settings.
  2. Under Privacy, click on Content Settings.
  3. Ensure “Block third-party cookies and site data” is not checked.
  4. Close and reload the browser.
To enable cookies in Google Chrome (Android):
  1. On your Android device, open the Chrome app.
  2. At the top right, tap More and then Settings.
  3. Tap Site Settings and then Cookies.
  4. Next to “Cookies,” switch the setting on.
  5. To allow third-party cookies, check the box next to “Allow third-party cookies.”


To enable cookies in Safari (Mac):
  1. Go to the Safari drop-down menu.
  2. Select Preferences.
  3. Click Privacy in the top panel.
  4. Under ‘Block Cookies’ > select the option ‘Never.’
  5. For increased security, once you have finished using the site, it’s advised to change the Privacy setting back to Always.
To enable cookies in Safari (iPhone/iPad):
  1. Open your Settings.
  2. Scroll down and select Safari.
  3. Under Privacy & Security, turn off “Prevent Cross-Site Tracking” and “Block All Cookies”.

Mozilla Firefox

  1. For Windows users - Click on the Tools menu and then select Options.
    For Mac users - choose Firefox > Preferences.
  1. Select the Privacy & Security panel.
  2. Under Cookies and site data, set the checkbox to Accept cookies and site data from websites.
  3. Close and reload the browser.

Note: Please make sure ‘Accept third-party cookies and site data’ is set to “Always”.

Microsoft Edge

  1. Click on the three horizontal dots on the top right corner and then click Internet Options.
  2. Then drag nearly the bottom and go to Advanced Settings.
  3. Under the Privacy Section, drag down until you find a text box with three options to Allow/Block the cookies.
  4. Choose “Don’t block cookies.”
  5. Close and reopen the browser.

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What Does Major Global Privacy Laws Say about Third-Party Cookies?

While third-party cookies are a great way of marketing products and services for advertisers, not all users want to be targeted. Multiple data regulation laws put relentless pressure on companies who engage in ad display and transferring cookie information.

GDPR and Third-Party Cookies

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires websites to collect explicit consent from the user regarding any cookies collected or shared other than the ones necessary to run the site.

GDPR has strict measures in place governing how user data should be prioritized and protected. Under the GDPR, consent means requiring a "clear affirmative action."

The conventional pre-checked box or a popup cookie banner stating that users consent to the website using cookies is no longer sufficient. This means that users must willingly opt-in to having their data collected and used for marketing purposes.

To voluntarily consent to cookies, GDPR requires companies to ask the users in a "clear, concise, and not unnecessarily disruptive way." This means that the site must have a user-friendly consent mechanism that doesn't contain technical or legal jargon.

Additionally, GDPR requires websites to have a seamless mechanism in place where users have the option and the right to take back their decision to grant data collection, also known as the "right to be forgotten."

CCPA and Third-Party Cookies

The California Consumer Privacy Act, routinely referred to as CCPA, explicitly states that cookies' data is personal information.

Although CCPA doesn't emphasize that businesses attain opt-in consent for cookies like the GDPR, it requires them to disclose any types of data they have collected via cookies. Furthermore, CCPA demands firms to reveal what they have been doing with the accumulated data.

Like GDPR, CCPA compels businesses to take the necessary steps to comply with the law by embedding the option of opting out of the sale of personal information collected by users via cookies.

LGPD and Third-Party Cookies

Brazil's Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados (LGPD) or the General Personal Data Protection Law, states that companies are responsible for providing prior notice and obtaining consent regarding cookies.

The law specifies that it's the data holder's responsibility to obtain the user's consent in writing or any other means. Once the cookie has been collected, the data holders must have clear records to prove they complied with LGDP cookie consent.

Furthermore, entities collecting cookies must explain whenever data is collected beyond the scope of the objective formerly informed to the user. Failure to justify could result in fines. Without any legal basis, the data controller must acquire consent from the user to process cookies. As such, proper mechanisms should be deployed to facilitate consent from users.


In a Nutshell

Websites and companies can collect third-party cookies if they respect local and international laws put in place by data regulators and governments. The legalities of collecting and sharing cookies should be followed by the law to avoid any controversial use of internet cookies or have fines imposed by data regulators.

If you’re unsure your business website complies with data protection laws related to cookies, make use of the cookie consent management tool that scans your websites to detect and classify cookies that are dropped.

The tool visualizes and tracks 1st and 3rd party code that runs on your websites, providing a simple and secure way for website visitors to exercise their right to opt-out of online tracking. Simultaneously, businesses can avoid conflicts and fines from data regulators by complying with cookie consent requirements.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Understanding Internet Cookies: Internet cookies are small pieces of data stored on users' computers by websites they visit. They serve various purposes, including tracking users' browsing activities and displaying personalized ads.
  2. Third-Party Cookies Explained: Third-party cookies are set by external domains (e.g., ad-based vendors) and track users across multiple websites. They are commonly used for targeted advertising based on users' online behavior.
  3. Functionality of Third-Party Cookies: Third-party cookies track user behavior between browsing sessions, allowing websites to display personalized content and ads. They work by embedding JavaScript from one website into another, enabling data transfer across domains.
  4. Comparison: First-Party vs. Third-Party Cookies: First-party cookies are created by the website being visited and are generally accepted for improving user experience. Third-party cookies, on the other hand, are considered non-essential and are often used for tracking and advertising purposes.
  5. Safety Concerns and Regulation: Third-party cookies themselves are not inherently dangerous but may raise privacy concerns for some users. Major global privacy laws, such as GDPR, CCPA, and LGPD, impose strict regulations on the collection and use of third-party cookies.
  6. Compliance Requirements: GDPR mandates explicit consent from users for cookies beyond those necessary for website functionality. CCPA requires businesses to disclose cookie data collection and provide opt-out options for users. LGPD emphasizes prior notice and obtaining consent for cookies, with clear records required for compliance.
  7. Enabling Third-Party Cookies: Users can enable third-party cookies in their browsers' settings, with specific instructions provided for various browsers like Google Chrome, Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.
  8. Legal Implications: Failure to comply with cookie consent regulations can result in fines and penalties for businesses. Companies must ensure clear, user-friendly consent mechanisms and provide options for users to revoke consent.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A third-party cookie is a type of browser cookie set by a domain other than the one the user is currently visiting. They're often used for tracking and advertising purposes.

First-party cookies are set by the website domain the user is visiting, mainly used to improve user’s browsing experience on a website, while third-party cookies are set by domains other than the one the user is on, often used for advertising and tracking purposes.

Allowing third-party cookies can pose privacy risks, as they can track your online behavior and collect data across websites. Some users choose to block them for added privacy.

Examples of third-party cookies include those used by advertisers to track user’s  interests and show targeted advertisements  and cookies employed by social media plugins to integrate sharing buttons on websites.

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