What are Adware tracking cookies (and how to get rid of them)?

We all know by now that cookies are small files dropped by websites on our computers so they can know if a person has already visited their website and how many times. Cookies also keep other titbits of information about visitors so the website can understand their behaviors and find out a behavioral pattern.

At least this is what cookies used to be. Modern day cookies are a bit more sophisticated than these. Today, cookies come with adware that doesn’t just track your activity on the website it was generated from, but also the other activities across various websites. They keep a record of your online activities and your browsing history and basically have a nature of privacy invasion. 

To stay protected from these cookies, it’s best to prevent them. And to keep removing your cookies periodically.

Let’s understand some basic terms here.

What is Adware?

Adware is a special type of software that is built with the purpose of marketing. Adware in itself isn’t really dangerous but it’s not a good thing either. Adware can become a host for malware and thus can harm your system. Besides, they keep a lot of information about your searching and browsing habits.

This is what happens. You open your device and go to the browser. But instead of showing the website you want to open, it starts popping ads. And they just get annoying after a bit but well, these are just ads. You can face some annoyance. But just like a virus, it spreads. It turns into malware and soon you’ll have difficulty performing even basic tasks. Adware can often be hidden in cookies.

Cookies aren’t always designed to harm you. In fact, many of them are for your own convenience. For example, when you log into a website and ask the website to remember your information, it creates a cookie and stores it on your device so whenever you sign in from that device, you’ll have no problem in remembering the username or password. 

But some of them are made to track your activities – your browsing sessions, your search history, the pages, you’ve opened and so forth. They can collect basic to a lot of information depending on who designed them. Cookies made by websites generally keep a minimal set of information but the cookies left by other parties (such as browser add-ons) can be more intrusive in nature.

Is Adware new?

Adware has been here since 1995! Yep, it’s not new. However, the truer version of the adware was developed later. Today’s adware isn’t as dangerous as malware but it does invade your privacy. 

Do you have adware on your computer?

Here are some signs to know if you have malicious adware:

  • The homepage of your browser has changed to something else
  • There are ads everywhere. Even where they shouldn’t be
  • Web pages aren’t opening properly
  • Website links take you to different places
  • Your browser (or even your entire device) becomes too slow
  • There are new add-ons on your browser
  • Browser windows crash too often

These are the telltale signs of adware infected by malware. The problem is, most adware hides without symptoms and keeps working in the background.

Why are these cookies being flagged by antivirus software?

Even the most harmless cookies store personal data. And this is why antivirus software often shows threats when they are downloaded. This happens especially when these cookies are left by third parties on your device. They can contain any kind of personal information and can be a privacy threat.

How to get rid of these cookies?

Before you get rid of them, you need to understand where they are stored. Cookies always reside on your local storage. Browser cookies are generally stored in temporary internet files. Different browsers store cookies in different locations.

To get rid of cookies, you can either prevent their entry or let them reside on your computer and then delete them periodically. However, the problem with periodic deletion is that they will keep tracking you for the time they are on your system.

Let’s say you decide to clean your computer every week. This means all your activities will be tracked for a week. And if you forget cleaning them once in a while, they will lie in your device for a longer time and thus create an even sophisticated behavior map to understand your user persona and which websites you’ll likely visit next.

What to do

When you open a website, it asks for cookie permissions. If you deny that permission, the website will most likely not let you view its contents. This beats the whole purpose of going online. If you want to access a website, you’ll just have to click Accept on their cookie consent form. So what should you do?

1. Go incognito

We all know that when we go incognito, our browsing history is not recorded. Yes, but there’s something more to it. When you close the session (close the window of your browser), all the cookies that were stored in that session are cleared out.

This means that even though you accepted the cookie declaration form, there will be no more stored cookies on your device. And if you open the website again, it will forget that you ever visited and will display the cookie consent form once again.

The problem with incognito

Theoretically, there’s no problem with incognito – it’s perfect. It does not save your browsing history, removes your cookies, and basically keeps you anonymous. Except for one little issue – you might forget to open the incognito window.

It’s a common human error. We open a regular tab thinking it was an incognito tab and then forget about it. Carry out the regular browsing and think we are safe from being tracked. But the regular browsing session saved everything. And now you have cookies.

The solution? A browser that’s always incognito. Something like Tor but maybe faster. Maybe something like Kingpin. Kingpin is a browser that is always incognito. It will not record your browsing history and delete all the cookies as soon as you close the session.

However, Kingpin isn’t like Tor and it won’t change your IP address. So if you want to keep your moving data safe, you need to use a VPN with Kingpin. 

2. Use browser cleaners

There are some browser add-ons such as Cookie Auto Delete that will delete unwanted cookies from your system whenever you close the tab. It will let you keep the cookies you want. And it’s not the only cookie cleaner. There are several other cookie cleaner add-ons.

But should you use these add-ons is the question. The more plugins you use with your browser, the more easily it can be identified. So even if you’re using a VPN, a website can detect it’s you because of your unique browser signature. This is called browser fingerprinting.

This is why experts recommend not using too many plugins. Only stick the most essential plugins. Or none at all.

So this leaves us with only one solution – incognito. Unless, of course, you choose to manually delete all cookies every time you close the browsing session.

Or maybe get a more secure browser. Like Kingpin. A browser that can delete all the cookies as soon as the session is closed. Yes, not all cookies are dangerous. Yes, even the ones that contain adware might not be very dangerous. But then, they do keep a track of you. And they can also be hosts to dangerous malware. So it’s always best to avoid cookies instead of finding and deleting them later.

3. Practice private browsing

The best method to get rid of cookies is to avoid them in the first place. This should be done either by using a private browsing mode or a private browser. But certainly not by using browser add-ons. Because add-ons can do more harm than good.