What about tracking cookies?

By | August 2, 2011
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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.

5 thoughts on “What about tracking cookies?

  1. Jean Leclair

    I have the same problem. I just this morning ran SuperAntiSpyware, again it came up with 69 Adware Cookies. I use IE8, this has happen in the pass and now.
    I am glad to know that someone else also has this happening

    1. infoave Post author

      It’s not a problem at all. “Tracking Cookies” is an ominous sounding name for nothing ominous. Norton and McAfee coined it and all the others picked it up because it’s good marketing. It makes you think the money you paid for a program is worth it because it finds these nasty things called “tracking cookies”. If one does it, they all have to do it, otherwise the ones that found tracking cookies would be seen as better than the ones that did not. Tracking cookies are just cookies – text files. Nothing more, nothing less.

  2. Matthew

    [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTTP_cookie] seems to disagree with you, and perhaps tracking cookies are not as benign as you indicate.

  3. infoave Post author

    You know what’s funny? Everyone who uses a credit card is being “tracked”. Anyone who uses a grocery store “savings card” is being tracked. If you don’t want to be tracked – really tracked – don’t use a credit card or a grocery store.

    By all means DO NOT USE A CELL PHONE. Talk about tracking. Not only do the cell phones know where you are when you make a call, who you called, and the time and duration of the call – they keep those records for a long time.

    Oh! And don’t subscribe to a magazine or you’ll be tracked and your information sold to others.

    The Wikipedia article just feeds the paranoid. Trust me when I tell you – there are much greater dangers on the Internet than “tracking cookies”.

    Will all due respect – your IP address is not traceable to you except by court order. Your ISP tracks you. Trust me. Your ISP knows every site you visit. Your IP number is logged. That’s how police and the FBI track down predators and criminals.

    But if you’re not doing anything illegal your ISP cannot turn over their logs. So if you’re doing legal things on the Internet there won’t be any court order and your IP address only identifies your ISP and your general location. It does not identify you personally.

    As far as “tracking cookies” they are not personally identifiable. They contain your IP address, the site you visited and the time you visited. They may also include it links you clicked on. And the police or FBI won’t go back to an ad network to find out who you are. It’s easier just to go right to your ISP and get the information. And there’s no such thing as “Do Not Track” with your ISP. They’re required by law to keep logs of all customers’ internet usage – including yours. But those logs can only be used to identify you by court order.

    If you block tracking cookies you’ll still see ads. Tracking cookies only tell advertisers what you seem to be interested in based on links you click, sites you visit, ads you click. They could care less who you are. They use the information gained from these so-called “Tracking Cookies” to show you ads you’re more likely to click on. For instance – if you’re visiting golf web sites you’ll probably see a log of golf related ads on other sites. If you believe all the do-not-track hysteria and you block tracking cookies, you’ll see random ads which means instead of seeing ad which may interest you – you’ll see ads for things which may not interest you — perfume ads, lady’s clothing ads, etc.

    It matters not to me whether you buy into the tracking-cookie paranoia. If you do you’re taking your eye off the ball because there are a lot more dangerous things on the Web than a text-file called a “tracking cookie”. We’re telling you it’s much ado about nothing. If you’re going to worry about tracking cookies you should also worry about a cell phones, credit cards, grocery store discount cards – and magazines. All of those track you too – and to much more personal level than do so-called “tracking cookies”.


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