4 Ways to Manage Online Cookies and Web Tracking

It’s almost impossible to visit a website without a banner about cookies popping up asking you to ‘Accept’ website terms. While you habitually click ‘Accept’ time and time again, do you really know what you’re agreeing to when you do this?

 

Cookies are a means to improve and track online activity, so there are both benefits and disadvantages to the practice. Knowledge is power; take control of who has access to your online habits.

 

What Is A Cookie

 

A cookie is a non-malicious text file that is placed on your computer when you visit a website. Cookies contain information such as when you viewed the website, products you clicked on, your IP address, and the time and browser used to visit the website. Cookies also ensure automatic login and authentication on subsequent visits to the website, and store ordering information used in online shopping.

 

In order to make money, most websites allow advertising networks to place ads within their website pages. If users click on any of these advertisements, a “third-party cookie” is sent to their browser. This third party cookie can be traced, which means the advertiser can view every site you visit related to the original advertisement. Third-party cookies allow advertising companies to learn about your online habits and build a consumer profile for you. This is known as behavioral tracking and serves to target web users with ads specific to their interests.

 

How To Manage Cookies

 

Cookies are not typically harmful to your online security, however, if you don’t want websites tracking your activity there are a few things you can do to limit cookie tracking on your computer.

 

Decline Website Cookies

 

Most websites display a banner informing users that they use cookies and provide an option to accept or decline their terms. While this will prevent the website from collecting data on your usage, it may also disable aspects of the website that you want to use.  

 

Do Not Track

 

If disabling aspects of websites that use cookies is not a concern, you can disable cookies from all websites by enabling Do Not Track in your browser settings. This option asks websites not to track your activity, but participation is voluntary so there is no guarantee that your activity won’t be tracked.

 

Cookie Settings

 

For users who want to disable cookies altogether, the best option is to go into cookie settings in your browser and adjust cookie preferences manually. There is typically an option to block all sites from collecting data, which disables all cookies. However, this option will prevent you from using any websites that require a login. A better option is to only allow first-party cookies and block third-party cookies and site data. This option allows users to utilize websites with logins, but prevents third-party advertisers from tracking online activity.

 

Clear Cookies

 

While cookies will not typically harm your computer it’s important to clear them as a part of regular computer maintenance. Clearing cookies can improve the speed of your browser and prevent websites you’ve visited in the past from tracking your current activity.
While the idea of tracking users’ online activity can be a bit offsetting, not all cookies are bad. Many sites simply use cookies to collect data that helps their website function better, which improves your online experience. Many retailers prosper due to these personalized shopping experiences. However, third-party tracking can feel a bit invasive, especially when advertisements for those wireless headphones you’ve been researching start popping up on your Facebook feed. Implementing the steps listed above can prevent unwanted tracking of your family’s online habits and provide peace of mind when searching the web.

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