What Are Adware Tracking Cookies?

by Shea Laverty

Cookies are small pieces of data saved by your Web browser that are designed to remember information about you for the website you're visiting. While often benign and useful, some cookies that come with adware are created with the intent of tracking your online habits or history and can be invasive of your privacy. Removing and preventing them is the best way to protect yourself from these cookies.

What is Adware?

Adware is usually software supported by advertisements and marketing to remain cost-free. While legitimate adware does exist and adware itself is not a necessarily dangerous thing, it's not all benign either. Adware can play host to more illicit software, like toolbars or other seemingly useful browser add-ons designed to create elaborate tracking cookies that collect large amounts of information regarding your surfing and searching habits.

Are All Cookies Bad?

Most cookies are actually designed to be convenient for you, or useful to the websites you visit. If you've ever clicked "Remember my login" or something similar, you've instructed your browser to create a cookie with your login information. Usually, cookies are more like a preference file than anything else. Some websites even rely on cookies to function. However, some are designed to track you, both by legitimate market research companies and less-scrupulous individuals for any number of other reasons. How much information they collect depends on how they were designed and how your computer created them: site-based cookies generally don't track beyond their site, whereas those created by add-ons can track your overall habits.

Where Are They Stored?

Cookies are always stored locally on your computer, generally in text files created by your browser or any other programs that make use of them. Browser cookies are stored in the Temporary Internet Files folder, a hidden folder specific to each user account on the computer. To locate this folder, enable the viewing of hidden folders, and then navigate to the following file path, with your username in place of "<Username>": C:\Users\<Username>\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files The actual Temporary Internet Files folder may still be hidden; if you don't see it, enter the file path above directly into the address bar.

How Do I Get Rid of Them?

You can delete cookies from the Temporary Internet Files folder, or remove them through your browser. In Internet Explorer's Internet Options menu, delete cookies on the General tab. For Firefox, the Tools menu's Privacy tab has the option. In Google Chrome, the option is in the Advanced Settings menu, in the Privacy section. You can also use anti-spyware software like SuperAntiSpyware, Spybot Search and Destroy or Malwarebytes to delete cookies. By configuring your browser's privacy settings to block all cookies or allow cookies only from certain sites, you can avoid the creation of tracking cookies in the future.