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For today’s tech blog we’ll tackle a topic that’s become much more visible over the last couple years. What are tracking cookies? How do they get on your devices? Can they harm your devices? We’ll answer these three questions in this post.
Tracking cookies are a specific type of cookie, so we first need to define cookies (the non-baked-good variety). In the digital world, the term cookie describes a text file saved onto your device that contains information specific to you, the user. Every time you log in to a site and click the “remember me” box, your browser creates a cookie. Just about anything a website “remembers” about you isn’t stored on the website. It’s stored in cookies on your device. The next time you visit the website, it sees the cookie on your device and picks up where it left off.
Tracking cookies take this concept much further. A site that uses tracking cookies will store marketing data on you. They may keep track of things like which links or stories you clicked on and especially which advertisements you clicked on.
Why do they do this? For data and advertising. Advertisers pay by the click, so websites are motivated to get you clicking on their advertisements. Remembering what you clicked last time enables a site to serve a more relevant ad to you this time. For example, if you clicked on a car advertisement last time and ignored one for beer, you’re fairly likely to do the same this time. The site will then serve up a car ad rather than a beer one.
Some firms take tracking cookies even further. Google, for example, serves ads on millions of sites. It has the ability to track your browsing and even shopping history across a wide range of sites. Google and others use this kind of information to retarget ads to you all across the internet.
Tracking cookies get loaded on your devices through the natural process of browsing the web. There’s no real way to stop them from loading, either. In the past few years, an initiative called Do Not Track was supposed to limit tracking cookies, but it hasn’t worked. Apple is even removing support for the feature and looking for other options.
The good news here is that tracking cookies won’t harm your devices. That said, if you dislike them, you can get rid of them. You can delete all cookies manually in your browser’s settings, though this deletes the helpful ones (like “remember me”) along with the nuisance ones. The NAI Consumer Opt-Out can also limit tracking cookies for your accounts.
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