Play Along with Aunty! Do Cookies Count As Spyware?
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Dear Gentle Readers,

Aunty recently became aware that some users are complaining that cookies are spyware, and accusing cookie-leaving companies of infecting their computers with spyware.


This happened most recently to the people over at Pocket PC Thoughts, where users’ anti-spyware programs were detecting cookies set by Pocket PC Thoughts’ advertisers as “spyware”, and leading the users to believe that Pocket PC Thoughts was facilitating the spreading of spyware, and accusing them of same.

So what do you think, dear readers? Do you mind cookies? Do you allow them? Do you reject them? Do you think that they are spyware, or that the placement of cookies on your computer is the funcational equivalent of infecting your computer with spyware?

We want to know.

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16 thoughts on “Play Along with Aunty! Do Cookies Count As Spyware?
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  1. As with many things, whether or not “cookies” are “spyware” depends totally on your definition of “spyware.”

    Here are some:

    A general term for a program that surreptitiously monitors your actions. While they are sometimes sinister, like a remote control program used by a hacker, software companies have been known to use spyware to gather data about customers. The practice is generally frowned upon.

    A technology that assists in gathering information about a person or organization without their knowledge. On the Internet, “spyware is programming that is put in someone’s computer to secretly gather information about the user and relay it to advertisers or other interested parties.”

    There are concerns that some Web sites and commercial organisations track users’ online activity through the use of what is called ‘spyware’. Usually coming in the form of ‘cookies’ – these enable the cookie writer to build-up information about what you do and where you go on the Web. Software is available that checks for and removes spyware.

    Software that tracks usage and reports it to others, such as advertisers Usually the tracking is concealed from the user of the software.

    Any software that covertly gathers user information through the user’s Internet connection without his or her knowledge, usually for advertising purposes.

    Are cookies a form of software? Yes. I don’t think that anyone can deny that they are.

    Do cookies track the surfing habits of users? Yes. That is one stated purpose of cookies.

    The question of whether cookies are spyware seems to come down to whether they collect and transmit information without the knowledge of the user. Many will point out that it is easy to wipe cookies from your computer using a simple program or a simple click of a button. Yet the same can be said of programs that we all agree are spyware. Is there a real difference between a program such as Ad-Aware SE that cleans your system of spyware and a program such as BeClean that cleans your system of cookies? No. Both remove code that is placed there without your express permission.

    Those who defend cookies as not being spyware do so, in part, because they have a vested interest in cookies not being labeled as spyware. They want to track your viewing habits. They want to change ads and raise revenues for their sites. They want to know more about you without you really knowing what information they are gathering.

    In conclusion, cookies are placed on your computer without your express permission. They gather information about you and your surfing habits. They transmit or relay that information without your permission.

    Cookies are spyware.

    They are a low level type of spyware, but spyware nonetheless.

  2. One of the best ways of stopping ads displaying and leaving ‘cookies’ is to put a list of those sites in your ‘hosts’ file. Assign them to the ip address of your machine (127.0.0.1), and hey you’ve got a lot less ads to worry about. A search in Google for ‘hosts’ + ‘adverts’ should bring up sites which have lists of urls used by the ad companies.

  3. Yes, some cookies, such as behavior tracking cookies are triggers for malware programs – like the Avenue A Inc cookie Lockergnome seems to have started using recently – my link to this site. Until I’m confident that all the browser tools I’m using now will function – after testing – in Firefox, or until Opera permits .MHT file saving, or text *and* image drag N drop functionality – I still use IE 5.5.

    SpyBot S&D (I forget exact ap name, it works great) gives privacy warning about every time I try to open a link from any of several newsletters I subscribe to from Lockergnome. I attempted to find an Opt-Out, via personal search of Pest-Patrol site and Google, and it appeared they offered one. It does not work.

    Remaining problem is if I deny download of Avenue A cookie, my brwser window crashes and sometimes entire IE session crashes. Whether you want to split hairs over jargon terminology of “spyware”, I don’t want anything that will interfere with my brwsing or computer control, against my wishes and against my settings – which function adequately with all my other newsletter links.

    Please get Lockergnome to stop using the known privacy bug – and plain hassle – Avenue A Inc cooke – aslo idnetified as another pseudonym at their own site.

    Greg

  4. Not spyware, but some do “spy” on you. Most of the ones that do, such as Doubleclick, I think are backwards and I don’t like them. The “justification” is that they “learn” my preferences and serve up ads in that area. To me, that means that if I look at a car ad I will get ads for insurance, third-party auto modificatons, other types of car – but not get ads for books, music, electronics… Silly, self-defeating, annoying.

    I have set filters to disallow cookies with “*.ad*” and others. Every once in a while, I get annoyed again and just delete EVERYTHING in the Cookies folder, which unfortunately includes some (login name [but not password] preset) I like.

  5. Do Cookies Count As Spyware? Yes and No. Cookie does record the which sites you’ve gone to and report back to the site (who sends the cookie) when you re-visit the site. To me that’s spyware. But not all cookies are like that. I’ll block them all anyway. I’ll even reject site who insists on sending a cookie before you can view the page. I just don’t accept anything send to me without my approval.

  6. Cookies do not meet the definition of “Spyware”. However, having said that, cookies set by third party sites, are there to track your browsing habits. Doubleclick may justify their cookies with altruistic statements about reducing the number of times you may see a given add, but the fact remains they are tracking your browsing activities. While personally, I use the built in cookie control of Zonealarm and Firefox to control my cookies, programs such as Ad-Aware (notice it isn’t called Spy-Aware) are absolutely doing what they were designed for to point out when tracking cookies exist on your computer. Cookies may not be spyware, but at the very least, 3rd party cookies are yet another unwanted invasion of my privacy!

  7. James wrote:

    “use WinPatrol and I find I get cookies even if I am not on the Web. Can you send me to a site where I can learn to read the cookie and find out were the are comming from.”

    Dear James,

    As many experienced users have said, cookies are not spyware. That said, it is good to know what cookies you have on your machine, and to be familiar with their purpose, and how to remove them if you so desire. There are several good tutorials on the web about this subject. A few are:

    http://www.cookiecentral.com/faq/

    http://www.aarp.org/computers-howto/Articles/a2002-11-27-cookies.html
    http://www.aarp.org/computers-howto/Articles/a2002-12-11-deletecookies.html

    Kissy kissy,

    Aunty

  8. Simple case in point, it’s a simple job to remove and block Cool Web Search cookies on a system running Mozilla.

    It’s an extremely difficult to impossible job to remove a Cool Web Search adware install on a system running vulnerable, unpatched Internet Explorer.

    The former is only a couple of text entries in a cookie file. The latter involves the hopeful removal of actual live software that may have been optimized to prevent its removal by such tools as CWSShredder.

  9. Having just gone through the experience of cleaning out a combined spyware/adware/virus infestation, let me put it bluntly. COOKIES ARE NOT SPYWARE.

    Cookies are extremely simple to delete, most useful browsers can be set to refuse third party cookies, and by use of something like IESPYAD and your restricted zone in Internet Explorer, or Spyware Blaster for Mozilla/Firefox, the more harmful sites out there can be prevented from setting cookies. All the good browsers now also have cookie management where you can scroll the list and permanently exclude sites from setting them.

    Since any useful site will save cookies for such things as shopping cart id, last page visited information and any other site customization information to make your browsing exerience more enjoyable, most cookies are totally harmless. The only ones that need blocking are the ones that have to deal with ad tracking which the above mentioned means will prevent.

    Now when it comes to preventing Spyware (actual software installation), you had better do everything possible to prevent it. Let me know when you run into a cookie that can slow down, crash your system or turn it into a spam zombie and then I will start worrying.

  10. Cookies are mostly harmless, and I think that the anti-spyware programs do a great disservice by lumping web cookies in with the truly horrible spyware programs that are out there. I’m with another commenter in blocking 3rd-party cookies, but even those can only be used to correlate your various visits with each other — they only have your personal info if you GIVE it to them.

  11. Anty,

    I use WinPatrol and I find I get cookies even if I am not on the Web. Can you send me to a site where I can learn to read the cookie and find out were the are comming from.

    I use adaware and Sybot and they say I am clean, but I still get them a few mins. after I turn on this PC. Oh, Noton,s scans this every morning also.

    Thank you very much

  12. I have Spybot Search & Destroy set on immunize, so whatever cookies it is programmed
    to block get blocked (strangely enough, I have it set so that I have to acknowledge
    each instance – sometimes requiring multiple clicks per page on sites such as PC
    World).

  13. I use FireFox and set all cookies to session only. Exit FireFox and they are all gone. I don’t want sites keeping a record of what I was looking at. It’s pointless, because next time I’ll look at something different anyway.

  14. There is so much functionality to control cookie handling in most browsers that I just can’t see the necessity of adding additional software to a system to do the same job. If one doesn’t know how to adjust their browser to handle cookies then one needs to put down the mouse long enough to read the help files.

  15. I block all 3rd party cookies. That way all the advert things get disallowed but the functional cookies are allowed through. Seems the best way to me.

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