The tracking cookie that ate New York

By | May 18, 2011
Print pagePDF page

Jim asks about tracking cookies
I recently switched from IE8 to Firefox. When I run SUPERAntiSpyware, it finds about 200 tracking cookies each day. They all seem to be related to Firefox. I never encountered this in IE8. You have previously educated me not to be worried about cookies, but are tracking cookies different? I remove them, but why are they there in Firefox and not IE8? Thanks!

Our answer
Tracking cookies, huh? We’re back to “tracking cookies”? Tracking cookies is an ominous sounding name for a rather innocuous text file. Cookies are text files. Tracking cookies are text files. What’s the difference? If you listen to anti-spyware companies or paranoia-obsessed netizens, they’re ominous little critters dropped on your PC by evil advertising networks, like DoubleClick (owned by Google), which track you as you browse the web.

We’re not sure why you’re not finding any tracking cookies when you use IE8 and you do when you’re using Firefox, because cookies are dropped on both browsers. Cookies are not  browser specific, but it may well be that your security settings in Internet Explorer are set differently than they are in Firefox. Maybe you have IE8 setup so it does not permit 3rd-party cookies. We can’t answer this question because we don’t have enough information about your browser settings.

First of all, tracking cookies and cookies are the same. Tracking cookies can indeed track you from one page to another on the same site, but they can’t track you across the Internet. The information gathered by these cookies is not personal. It is information such as what ads you are clicking, which supposedly tells the advertising network what your interests are, so the advertising network can show you Maalox ads, because your stomach is so upset from worrying about tracking cookies. Advertisers may well build a profile tied to your IP address. And if they do, they aren’t going to use it to track you down and shove New Balance running shoes in your face and force you to wear them. They’re not going to call you. They’re not going to send you regular mail. They’re not going to visit your house. They may well show you ads for products your “profile” indicates that you may be interested in. Some people find that an invasion of privacy. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about tracking cookies and cookies in general. It does make for good press and it draws a lot of traffic to blogs and tech sites – especially if he headlines are ridiculous enough.

Actually, these evil tracking cookies serve other purposes. Cookies (tracking or otherwise) prevent you from seeing the same ads over and over. They also help keep you logged into a site, prevent you from seeing more than one obnoxious pop-up ad in the same session, and perform many other useful functions.

We don’t blame SUPERAntiSpyware for calling them tracking cookies. They are in a competitive market. If one anti-spyware didn’t find evil tracking cookies and another one did, then there many would buy the one that did, thinking it was better. So SUPERAntiSpyware has to play the tracking cookie game.

Look, Jim, the real issue with cookies, tracking or not, is they take people’s eyes off the real threats they face on the Web. Cookies are text files. Tracking cookies are text files. They are not programs; they are not malware. They are not any kind of “ware”. The suffix “ware” indicates an application, a program. Cookies and tracking cookies do not “run”, nor can they replicate themselves on your computer and spread. All cookies, tracking or not, can be deleted simply by right-clicking and selecting “delete”.

It’s a good that you’re removing all cookies, simply because cookies and tracking cookies clutter your hard drive. It’s good to remove all junk and garbage files as a matter of good computer maintenance. It’s always good to clear junk and garbage files off your computer often – because if you don’t, junk files can consume a great deal of your hard drive space. And even if you have a large hard drive, there’s no sense wasting your free hard drive space on junk or garbage files – cookies or not.

You’ll be safer and enjoy the web more if you confine your concerns to the real dangers of the web, and forget about “tracking cookies”. Concern yourself with and be wary of the spyware, malware, viruses, drive-by downloads, worms, phishing attacks, malicious ads, etc. that are so pervasive. Cookies are mere nuisances, they are not dangerous, whether they’re tracking cookies or not. The only thing you need to worry about with cookies is removing them from your hard drive, because they add to the clutter, like all the other junk, garbage, and temporary files do.

One thought on “The tracking cookie that ate New York

  1. jaMES

    Superantispyware allows you to ignore tracking cookies in settings.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *