What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word “cookies”? I’m sure that the sweet delicious edible ones are the thing that crossed your mind right now, unfortunately these are not the ones I’m talking about, but rather the cookies that track your online activities.
Tracking Cookies: What are they and what can they do to your privacy?
To some degree, we’re all familiar with cookies as they relate to websites. In fact, some of you already know that cookies are used by websites to make your online experience personalized and to store information locally on your computer.
Well, let’s set things straight once and for all!
So, what is a tracking cookie?
Just like every type of program out there, there are versions of cookies that present a huge risk to the safety and privacy of any information you enter online. These are known as browser cookies, or tracking cookies which are simply tiny bits of text that are downloaded to your browser as you surf the web in order to record your entries and report them back to wherever the cookies’ designer wants your data to go. Cookies are essentially created to personalize your browsing experience by tracking and storing your online activities. Using your IP address to uniquely identify you so that you get a richer and more customized experience.
What makes tracking cookies different than regular ones?
A regular cookie is essentially a small text file, sometimes only a few kilobytes in size, which usually contains options the page will load for you upon subsequent visits.
For example, if you turn the SafeSearch option to “high” or “off” in Google, your Web browser would edit the cookie for google.com with a bit of text that tells the Google website to set the SafeSearch option to your setting. However, instead of being held on Google’s servers, the cookies are stored on your computer.
In the meantime, a tracking cookie (AKA third party cookies) takes the regular cookie process one step further by sending a log of your online activities to a remote database for analysis. In fact, most tracking cookies are designed to send specific user information, such as names and addresses, out to the tracker host so that whenever an ad or page is loaded, it automatically send the record of your visit to the logs and more specifically target you with targeted ads. Some ads will even address you by name and location.
How to avoid third tracking cookies?
If you’re privacy and security matters to you, there’s plenty you can do to minimize the dangers associated with the use of tracking cookies:
- Use your browser’s privacy mode to disable cookies. That way, your browser won’t read or store your web history. Unless you don’t mind people seeing your browsing information, we totally recommend using private browsing while using a shared computer.
- Use privacy-oriented search engines such as DuckDuckGo which doesn’t store cookies, user logs, or IP addresses. This option guarantees that no one ever knows your preferences and searches.
- It’s always good to clear your session’s data when you’re done or even set your browser to do it automatically for you. Despite that it’s less easy because you’ll have to log back into any of the websites that normally remember your login, but it’s definitely worth the effort as the advertisers will know less about you and your online activities.
- If you actually like the personal browsing experience offered by cookies, but have a tendency to connect to shared networks, it’s highly recommended to use a VPN service such as VPN.Express that will easily encrypt those plain text packets which will keep anyone from being able to see your personal information that cookies send over unsecured networks.
Be safe. Be free.