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Why does my anti-spyware program keep reporting the same cookies?

Why, when I run my anti-spyware programs, do I get the same results week
after week? It’s always the same tracking cookies and I quarantine them but
they never go away. Why bother running these programs if they only find the
same junk over and over?

The short answer is because you probably visit the same web sites regularly,
and they put those cookies back the next time you visit. Run your anti-spyware
program again, and it sees that they’ve returned, and dutifully reports
them.

Some cookies can be identified as “tracking” cookies – cookies that could be
used to track your movement around the internet. Personally my reaction is
“So?”, but some people do care.

But you raise a good point. All these reports are so much noise to many
people, and get in the way of real issues when they pop up.

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Whether or not cookies are truly spyware is up for debate. Cookies can be
used to provide you with useful functionality like remembering who you are when
you visit a web site so you don’t have to login each time, or so you don’t have
to re-type all of your personal information each time you fill out a sales
form.

Cookies can also be used to track your movements on the internet. The most
common case is cookies called “third party” cookies – cookies placed by
advertisers on various web sites. But to quote my previous article How do I
delete cookies? And just what are cookies, anyway?
: “Now before the
paranoia kicks in, let’s be clear about something – they don’t care about
you specifically.
Sorry, but you’re just not that
important.”

Tracking cookies generate a tremendous volume of information that is
processed in aggregate … meaning that advertisers using them can determine
things like “this many people who visit site A also go to site B, so we should
beef up our advertising purchase for site B.” They’re not saying “Oh,
look, Leo just visited site A again. And there he goes to site B.”. You and I
as individuals just aren’t that interesting. Analyzed as a group, however, the
information can provide interesting trends and information.

The paranoia has a basis in fact, however, since even though it’s more work
than it’s worth, cookies could be used to trace my individual visits
across various web sites.

“The fact is that there are many other more serious
issues than cookies that anti-spyware programs do catch and resolve.”

So, does that make it spyware?

I guess so, but as I said earlier, I really don’t care.

So there are various options:

  • Many anti-spyware programs have the option to control what they report on.
    You might be able to turn off reporting of cookie related issues. This is what
    I elect to do.

  • In your browser, you can turn off what are called “third party” cookies.
    This means that when you visit a web site that site will be allowed to use
    cookies, but advertisers on that site (the third parties) will not.

  • Again in your browser you can turn off cookies completely. No site will be
    allowed to use cookies. This comes with a high cost, in my opinion: many sites
    will simply not work, and on other sites you’ll have to do by hand much of what
    the cookies were doing for you – like retyping your information.

You’ll note that not running an anti-spyware program was not an option.

The fact is that there are many other more serious issues than cookies that
anti-spyware programs do catch and resolve. Things you and I would
care about. If you’re even a semi-savvy computer user they’re infrequent but
they can happen. You want that anti-spyware program to be there to catch
’em.

And as always, make sure that your anti-spyware program, like your
anti-virus program, is getting regular updates to it’s database of malware.
That way you’re sure to catch the new and latest threats as soon as
possible.

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6 comments on “Why does my anti-spyware program keep reporting the same cookies?”

  1. One thing to note on the “reappearing tracking cookies”…

    Even though the cookies have come back, they are new cookies. That is, as far as the cookies are concerned, you did some things for a week, and then disappeared off the face ot the net. Then, the next week, a new person came along and did things for a week before disappearing. And so on.

    And for an option that wasn’t mentioned…

    Many anti-spyware and firewall programs can filter cookies as they come in. For example, I have been using SpySweeper for several years. Among other things, they have a “tracking cookie shield” option which blocks the cookies as they come in, rather than waiting for the next sweep to delete them.

    Reply
  2. In Internet Explorer you can put unwanted cookies in a list of cookies to block. On IE toolbar select Tools/Internet Options/Privacy/Sites and add the address of the unwanted cookie.

    A good program for checking cookies is “Cookie Viewer” from Karen Kenworthy. One of her Karen’s Power Tools. It shows the names of all cookies and the address that placed the cookie on your computer. From the list you can delete those cookies you do not want. And then add the senders address to the blocked cookies list on IE to prevent future offending cookies.

    Reply
  3. If you are using Firefox you can selectively block any cookies. But the best feature is to select “Keep until I close Firefox” under the Privacy tab. You will not be hounded by web sites that “must” set a cookie before it will allow you connection. When you close the browser, all the cookies are wiped clean. If you need one or more cookies for identification at your bank or similar site, their cookie can be selected to remain after the wipe. Simple built in cookie control.

    Reply
  4. I was so ready to delete ALL my cookies, being the paranoid type, but your answers cleared up a lot for me as to how they make navigating the web easier, less time-consuming, and less physical typing in of information every time you visit a website. You are right, there are far greater concerns surfing the web. Thanks!

    Reply
  5. Anti-virus and spyware programs also often have an ignore setting. If you’re not bothered by cookies, you can put them in the ignore category when they’re found so that you’re not bothered by any but ones from new sites.

    Reply
  6. I use Firefox and have tried to block certain sites from storing cookies, such as AdRevolver. But, the cookies are stored anyway. Asked Firefox about this, no useful reply.

    Reply

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