What Are Tracking Cookies?

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They might sound delicious, but tracking cookies aren’t a tempting dessert item. Cookies store small amounts of data that you’ve entered into a particular website to make it easier for you to access information. Cookies are the reason you don’t have re-enter your username and password every time you click a new link on Facebook. Without cookies, you would need to continually validate your credentials while using a website.

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How do tracking cookies work?

Regular cookies are small text files that store your preferences for a web page so the page automatically loads with your selected options each time you visit. Tracking cookies do the same thing, but they take it one step further. In addition to storing your options and preferences, tracking cookies also keep track of your online activities.

This data is typically linked to your Internet Protocol (IP) address. The tracking cookie sends logs of your online behavior to a remote database so they can be analyzed. Marketers synthesize your info  along with that of millions of other users to help spot trends and understand online behavior. This is why you might start seeing an abundance of ads for a particular company after you clicked on a link to that brand. Some tracking cookies help advertisers customize the ads you see with your name or location.

Do cookies know my secure information?

When you receive an ad that calls you by name, it can be unnerving. This is why many people see tracking cookies as an invasion of privacy. But cookies don’t scan your computer for personal information, and the data they collect is encrypted and usually worthless to any party other than the server or website that created it. In addition, cookies can only capture information that you’ve provided to the website in question.

How can I get rid of cookies?

While most tracking cookies are benign, it’s reasonable to have concerns about the security of your personal data. Many websites that use cookies disclose the practice in their legal disclaimers and privacy policies. Paying attention to those policies and the privacy options on your computer can help limit the types of information cookies have access to.

1. Clear out cookies 

Make it a habit to regularly clear out cookies in your web browser. It should be a straightforward process that you access in the privacy settings of the browser.

2. Decide which cookies you want 

You have the option to set the level of access cookies have. You can allow all cookies, but that’s not what IT security pros recommend. Your best bet is to disallow third-party cookies, which naturally weeds out most suspect cookies. Be aware that if you disallow all cookies, some websites you visit may not function properly.

3. Use antivirus software

Antivirus programs and anti-malware software often block tracking cookies as part of the overall protection they provide. If you’re worried about cookies, having this kind of backup is a smart move.

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Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past decade. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime and safety reports and spotting trends. Her expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like NPR, TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of podcast, radio and TV clips in the US and abroad.

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