What is a Tracking Cookie?
A tracking cookie can be used to follow people around the Web as they jump from site to site. Though your IP address or your HTTP request header’s referral field can also be used to accomplish this, in part, tracking cookies allow for more accurate tracks.
When you visit a page and there’s no cookie present in the request, the server assumes that this is your first page visited. It then creates a random character string and sends it, as a cookie, back to you along with the requested page. That cookie then gets sent to all new pages you visit, and in turn creates a log of the cookie itself, all the URLs visited, and when you visited them on the server.
Browsing cookie-free may sound like the easiest solution, but it also disables a lot of what’s useful about the modern Web. Session cookie information, for example, will keep you logged in to a site even if you close the tab. This can be useful for computers that have only one user. So, the solution has to be nuanced to support the benefits of the modern Web while not throwing buckets of personal information at data aggregators.
Except for Chrome, all browsers support the standard Do Not Track header. This tells Web sites not to track you, but it’s respected by a tiny percentage of sites. You can also force Private Browsing to run all the time, which prevents cookies from being saved, though you can still be tracked via your IP address.
Browsers typically carry a function that will handle your cookies, but what is your browser allowing under default settings?
Here’s what the five major browsers do for your cookie “problem”:
- Firefox: Go to Options > Privacy. The first option is to enable Do Not Track, while just below it you can make the browser run in Private Browsing mode all the time.
- Internet Explorer: Do Not Track comes courtesy the Tracking Protection List feature. Go to the Gear icon > Safety > Tracking Protection and choose “Get a Tracking Protection List online” to install one. (You can’t run InPrivate by default from the Options menu as with Firefox, but it is an option.)
- Safari: The process is even more convoluted. Go to Preferences > Advanced, then check “Show Develop menu in Menu bar.” You might have to unhide your Menu bar if it’s not displayed. The Develop option will appear between Bookmarks and Window; then choose “Send Do Not Track HTTP Header.” Safari does have an option for Private Browsing on-demand.
- Opera: Currently supports Do Not Track only in its upcoming version 12. The feature is available in the developer’s preview, Opera 12 Wahoo. Go to Preferences > Advanced > Security > “Ask websites not to track me” to enable it. Opera’s big Private difference is that it can run on a per-tab basis, so it’s important to pay attention to what you’re doing in each tab. Go to Opera menu > Tabs and Windows, and choose Private for either a tab or a window.
- Chrome: Has a lot of advanced security features, but it doesn’t offer support for Do Not Track. Its private browsing mode is called Incognito and can be activated by choosing “New Incognito window” from the wrench menu.
For more information on simple ways to protect your virtual environment, go to our site at Orangecountycomputer.com or call our Tech Support Center at 949-699-6619 to speak to a member of a Technical Team.