Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

"Tracking" cookies from most sites aren't that bad, and usually not tracking you personally. They are there to help with your user experience.

My SuperAntiSpy programs lists "vid.askleomedia.com" as a tracking cookie. Leo, why would you want to track anybody? How do these spy programs determine a tracking cookie from a regular cookie? Is your site tracking people who access it or is it maybe some third party site doing the tracking? Maybe it's harmless but the word "tracking" makes me nervous; it makes me feel like someone is spying on me.

In this excerpt from Answercast #101, I look at why we need cookies to create interactive features on the internet. They really aren't as bad as many spyware programs make them out to be.

A different kind of cookie on your computer

"Tracking" cookies from your site

Well, absolutely right: the word "tracking" I believe is completely inaccurate in 99% of the cases. Nobody is tracking you; nobody is tracking me.

Now... vid.askleomedia.com? To be honest, I'm very surprised that there's a tracking cookie, or any kind of a cookie, associated with that domain. That domain I set up specifically to be cookie-free. Not because cookies are bad, but because there's a bit of a performance improvement in not having cookies for some of the things that come down from that site.

Vid.askleomedia.com is basically where I put my video files. If you're looking at a video that I've produced and posted myself, that's the server that it's coming from. In reality, it's a content delivery network. It's actually coming from a server that is as close to you as possible - but there shouldn't be cookies associated with that and that's on my list of things to do.

Spy programs showing tracking cookies

I need to figure out what's going on there... but the real crux of this question (and the reason that I'm addressing it) is the question you asked here, "How did these spy programs determine a tracking cookie from a regular cookie?"

There you have it. There is no definition. There is no difference. There is no technical way to determine whether a cookie is being used for tracking or for something else.

Remember a cookie is nothing more than a little piece of information that is kept on your computer and then sent back to the domain that it was placed there by. So if, for example, Ask-leo.com places a cookie on your machine, then the next page you visit or the next time you visit ask-leo.com that cookie is automatically sent with the page request.

Cookies help you interact

That's how sites like Hotmail and Gmail know that you're logged in and don't force you to login for every single page.

And you're right; it's also how advertising networks track your activity over your use of the internet. That's where the term "tracking cookie" comes from. The cookies that they place are used for a form of tracking.

Now again, even there the word sounds a lot worse than it really is. They're not tracking you specifically. They're not tracking me specifically. They don't know who you and I are specifically. What they're doing is they are simply keeping track of what places this particular computer has visited.

Delivering relevant ads

This allows them, in the case of advertising, to make sure that they're showing you ads that are more relevant to the kinds of things that you like to look at.

If you are a sportsman and you visit a number of sport sites, then that means the advertising networks know you're probably more interested in sports merchandise than you are maybe in lingerie. On the other hand, if you're out looking at Victoria's Secret or other kinds of places that sell lingerie, you're probably not going to be seeing a whole lot of Nike ads or football ads or whatever kinds of ads.

In my case, I see ads for server hosting companies all the time. Why? Because it's something that I look at. There are sites that I visit on a fairly regular basis that are all about server hosting, web hosting. As a result, the advertising networks think I'm interested in that kind of stuff. You know what? They're right!

Tracking cookies not that evil

Now. They don't know that it's Leo Notenboom at the other end of that computer!

They could... but you know what? They don't. It's just not worth it. You and I as individuals just aren't that interesting.

The real problem here is that some anti-spyware tools (apparently SuperAntiSpy that you're using) are raising a red flag about tracking cookies. And you know what? There's no red flag to be raised. There really isn't.

Tracking cookies are not the evil things that some people claim that they are. I really don't think that there's an issue here. I really don't think there's an issue with tracking cookies in general.

Ask Leo! is not tracking

I personally have no interest in tracking anybody even though there are cookies that get placed by my site.

The site places exactly two different kinds of cookies. When you visit Ask-Leo.com, you will get cookies from advertisers who display ads on the site. Like I described earlier, that's all about making sure that they're targeting the ads as best they can.

The other cookie that gets placed on your computer, when you visit my site, is a cookie that allows it to remember who you are in the comments form. If you take a look down there, there's a thing that says, "Remember me." What it's remembering is your email address and your name. If you say, "remember me" that stuff gets placed in a cookie and that's it.

So, I'm not interested in tracking you. The cookie that gets placed is on your machine? It's there to help fill out the form the next time you decide you want to comment - that's all it is.

So, my recommendation is, in reality, do nothing.

If SuperAntiSpy has a way to turn down its sensitivity to cookies - great. Do that. But I really wouldn't worry about this scenario. Yes, I need to take a look at vid.askleomedia.com as to why it might be dropping some cookies, because it's not supposed to - but even then, I really don't think there's an issue here.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Article C6382 - April 6, 2013 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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3 Comments
Ken B
April 8, 2013 12:05 PM

Sometimes, I think the anti-virus and anti-spyware companies like to report all of those cookies. After all, it gives them something to "clean" from your system, even if all they're doing is getting rid of water spots on your glasses.

The latest version of AVG even goes so far as to report that those cookie files are "infected". Yes, the status report uses the word "infected" on those files.

Stephen Mann
April 9, 2013 8:57 AM

HTML Cookies are generally good. (Flash and Root cookies are bad, but that's another question).

What amazes me is all the people who delete all cookies under the impression that it reduces the amount of ads they see.

Duh!

Without cookies, you *will* get ads, but they will be for anything imaginable. At least if you allow the cookies you won't likely be getting ads for products that you would never have an interest.

You may be able to stop most of them using your hosts file to block the IP address of known advertisers, but the cure is probably worse than the disease because you still see a placeholder for the ad and you do have to maintain your blocked IP list.

johnpro2
April 9, 2013 4:06 PM

Cookies can be embarrassing.If you go to sites that you don't want your friends or family to know about, delete all cookies with cccleaner {free}
Jp

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