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What are Tracking Cookies?

What are Tracking Cookies?

Cookies are small pieces of information stored on web browsers, that help track user behavior. This article describes tracking cookies, that log user activity associated with an IP address.
Batul Nafisa Baxamusa
Tracking cookies are used by advertisers and web analytics firms to aggregate information about the likes and dislikes of users. Let's know more about them.
What are Tracking Cookies?
Cookie is a term that was already used in computer jargon for an intermediary that holds some data. They were first introduced to the Internet browsing process by Netscape.
HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol) helps computers communicate on the Internet. Whenever you visit a site, the HTTP header will speak to the cookies of the site to gather and store specific information. This cookie will then be added to the list of cookies that are already present on your computer.
Tracking cookies are created when the browser visits a particular website and this website sends information to the browser. This information is then stored in form of a text file. When the user visits the same site again, the information is retrieved and sent to the website's server. A tracking cookie can be created by ads, widgets, and other elements when the website page is being loaded. The process of creating cookies is almost instantaneous, so much so, that the user does not even realize that the information was sent, retrieved, and saved on his computer.
What are they Used for?
Tracking cookies are used by many websites that claim to be keeping a tab on the interests of a computer user, to ultimately provide a better user experience. However, the actual use of these cookies is in helping websites target their advertisements, in a better way. It helps the advertisers in keeping track of the products that any user is most likely to purchase. This helps them match their advertisements accordingly. This is mostly the case for sites like Amazon and eBay. In some cases, it helps websites like 'My Yahoo', in personalizing user experience according to his interests. A website like DoubleClick uses them to collect demographic information.
Where are they Stored?
These cookies are stored in a particular location depending on the Internet browser one uses. For users of Internet Explorer, cookies are placed in a folder called Cookies that contains individual text files for each cookie. In Windows XP, each user has an individual folder for cookies in \Documents and Settings\[User name]\Cookies\.
In case of AOL, Internet Explorer cookies are kept in the Temporary Internet Files folder. Mozilla-related browsers use cookies.txt for each cookie that occupies one or more lines within one file. The location of the cookies in this case, depends on the version and type of browser.
User Privacy Issues
Tracking cookies may have some useful function, but they also have a negative side. Although, it is claimed that no personal information of the user is tracked, some privacy issues do arise. Many websites build market profiles with the help of these cookies.
This has prompted FTC to come up with stricter legislation related to privacy issues concerning cookies. Many online businesses can attach the user's personal information for profiling. This can be dangerous when people are buying products from online stores. When people enter their name, address, and even credit card number to make a purchase, there is always a threat that it might be sold to another website. This may lead to unwanted mails and letters from companies offering similar products that you have never heard of.
How to Delete Them
To remove these cookies, all you need to do is click the Tools tab in Internet Explorer and select Internet Options. Then, click on 'Delete Cookies' tab that you will find in the General tab option. In case of Firefox 1.0, you need to select Tools and then choose Options. Here, click on the privacy icon in the sidebar and click the Clear button on the right side of the section, devoted to cookies, to remove them.
In Internet Explorer, you can block third-party cookies by clicking on the Tools tab and referring to Internet Options. There, click on the privacy tab and then select the Advanced option. In this tab, click the check box option which says Override automatic cookie handling. Then, select the privacy icon and the plus sign on the left. This will lead to an expansion of the window, where you can select the options which say, Allow sites to set cookies and Originating website only.
If you still aren't satisfied and are looking forward to blocking first-party cookies, you need to open Internet Explorer's Advanced Privacy Settings. Here, select the option Prompt that's visible under the heading that says First party Cookies. In case of Mozilla Firefox, set the settings to ask me every time and save the settings. This will help you get rid of first and third-party cookies.
You can even use antivirus software to automatically block and delete cookies. Make sure that you have a monitoring mechanism to know who and what transfers information from your site, for your own safety.