What is a tracking cookie?

Martin Brinkmann
Jul 17, 2010
Updated • Sep 28, 2013

Computer users may run into the term tracking cookie frequently if they are using a security software like Norton 360 or Kaspersky Internet Security. These programs detect those web browser cookies, and offer to delete them from the system.

The detection of third-party cookies by security software does not mean that they pose the same danger as a computer virus, trojan or worm to the user. Tracking cookies are placed on the computer by online advertising companies. These companies track the user's movement on the Internet for statistical, marketing and relevancy purposes.

One of the main purposes of cookies in general is to save temporary data, for instance language preferences or login information. Tracking cookies on the other hand are only created to track a users activity.

The activity can still only be tracked if the user visits a website that displays the advertisement scripts of the company, and not on sites where those scripts are not loaded.

What are tracking cookies?

Tracking cookies raise privacy issues, as they allow companies to partially track an Internet user's movement on the Internet. The detected cookies can be deleted easily in the software that is used to browse the Internet, in third-party software that has been designed for that purpose, and manually.

Some web browsers, like Microsoft's Internet Explorer, offer settings to handle third-party cookies. The term third-party cookies might confuse some users, but it is actually fairly easy to understand. A first party cookie is placed by the website itself, it would for instance be a first party cookie if Ghacks would place a cookie on your system. A third party cookie is placed by scripts from other services, mostly advertisements that are loaded on the page which means that their contents are loaded from other servers.

Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer users can clear all cookies in the web browser by clicking on Tools > Internet Options, and then the Delete button in the General tab. This opens the Delete Browsing History menu. Cookies is one of the items available in that menu. Keep in mind that this will delete all cookies, it may mean that certain site preferences are reset to their default values. It may also mean that a login prompt is displayed on some sites on the next connection.

internet explorer cookies
internet explorer cookies

Cookies will be written again on the next connection. The third party cookie behavior can be configured in the Privacy tab of the Internet Options. The default setting is medium, which blocks some third party cookies but not all of them. Moving that slider to medium high, high or "block all cookies" will reduce or eliminate cookies in the web browser. A better approach, that blocks third-party cookies completely, is to click on the Advanced button to open the Advanced Privacy Settings in Internet Explorer.

advanced privacy settings
advanced privacy settings

Activate "Override automatic cookie handling" and change the third party cookie selection to Block. This blocks all third-party cookies in Internet Explorer without affecting first-party cookies at all.


The first paragraph details how to handle tracking cookies in Opera 12 or older. For Opera 15 or newer, scroll down to the update part of the chapter.

Opera users can delete cookies by clicking on the Menu button at the top left of the web browser, and then Settings > Delete Private Data.

opera delete private data
opera delete private data

A click on the Manage Cookies button after enabling detailed options in this menu lists all cookies with the option to delete them selectively instead.

Opera offers options to change the default cookie behavior and block tracking cookies. Press Ctrl-F12 to open the Opera Preferences. Switch to the Advanced tab and select cookies from the left sidebar menu.

Change Accept cookies to Accept cookies only from the site I visit to disable third party cookies in Opera.

opera block tracking cookies
opera block tracking cookies

Update: From Opera 15 on, things have changed quite a bit. You can delete cookies in Opera 15 or newer by selecting Opera > More Tools > Clear browsing data from the menu, or by loading the internal page opera://settings/clearBrowserData directly in the browser.

opera clear browsing data
Opera 15+ clear cookies

To block the creation of third-party cookies in Opera 15 or newer, do the following:

  1. Load opera://settings in the browser's address bar.
  2. Switch to Privacy & security on the left if that page is not loaded by default.
  3. Locate Cookies and check the "Block third-party cookies and site data" preference here.
block third party cookies
Opera 15+ block third party cookies

Google Chrome

Things have changed for Google Chrome as well, browse to the update part below.

A click on the wrench and the selection of Options opens the Google Chrome Options window. The Under the Bonnet tab contains options to clear the browsing data and set the default cookie behavior.

A click on Clear browsing data opens a new window with the option to delete stored cookies, among other data.

delete cookies google chrome
delete cookies google chrome

General cookie behavior can be set in the Content settings menu. Cookies is one of the options in that menu. Locate the checkbox "Block all third-party cookies without exception" to block all tracking cookies from being set on the computer.

google chrome block tracking cookies
google chrome block tracking cookies

Update: Google has modified how cookies are managed in the Google Chrome web browser. To clear the browsing data in newer versions of Google's browser, hit the shortcut Ctrl-Shift-Del to bring up the clear browsing menu, or load chrome://settings/clearBrowserData directly in the browser's address bar.

Make sure delete cookies and other site and plug-in data is selected before you click on the clear browsing data button.

clear browsing data
Google Chrome clear browsing data

To modify the third-party cookie behavior in Chrome, load chrome://settings/ or click on the menu button in the interface and select Settings from there.

Click on the show advanced settings option here at the bottom of the screen and scroll down until you come to the content settings button under Privacy.

google chrome cookies
google chrome cookies

Click on it and enable the "Block third-party cookies and site data" preference under Cookies here.

Mozilla Firefox

The keyboard shortcut Ctrl-Shift-Del opens the Clear Recent History menu in Firefox. Here it is possible to clear the cookies immediately.

clear recent history firefox
clear recent history firefox

The Firefox options, located under Tools > Options offer controls to block third party cookies in the web browser. Locate the Privacy tab, and there the entry Accept third-party cookies. Remove the checkmark next to the preference to block tracking cookies and other third party cookies in the Firefox web browser.

firefox block third party cookies
firefox block third party cookies

The Firefox menu that you see above has changed slightly in newer versions of the browser. It displays a menu now next to Accept third-party cookies were you can select "Never", "Always" or "From visited". The first blocks them all, the second accepts them all. The third is unique to Firefox and accepts all third party cookies if you have been to the site previously that wants to set them.


All popular web browsers offer controls to block third-party cookies. Some advertising companies use Flash Cookies to track users. Please follow the link to the article linked above to find out how those can be deleted from the system as well.


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  1. ilev said on August 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Doesn’t Windows 8 know that www. or http:// are passe ?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm

      Well it is a bit difficulty to distinguish between name.com domains and files for instance.

    2. Leonidas Burton said on September 4, 2023 at 4:51 am

      I know a service made by google that is similar to Google bookmarks.

  2. VioletMoon said on August 16, 2023 at 5:26 pm

    @Ashwin–Thankful you delighted my comment; who knows how many “gamers” would have disagreed!

  3. Karl said on August 17, 2023 at 10:36 pm


    The comments section under this very article (3 comments) is identical to the comments section found under the following article:

    Not sure what the issue is, but have seen this issue under some other articles recently but did not report it back then.

  4. Anonymous said on August 25, 2023 at 11:44 am

    Omg a badge!!!
    Some tangible reward lmao.

    It sucks that redditors are going to love the fuck out of it too.

  5. Scroogled said on August 25, 2023 at 10:57 pm

    With the cloud, there is no such thing as unlimited storage or privacy. Stop relying on these tech scums. Purchase your own hardware and develop your own solutions.

    1. lollmaoeven said on August 27, 2023 at 6:24 am

      This is a certified reddit cringe moment. Hilarious how the article’s author tries to dress it up like it’s anything more than a png for doing the reddit corporation’s moderation work for free (or for bribes from companies and political groups)

  6. El Duderino said on August 25, 2023 at 11:14 pm

    Almost al unlmited services have a real limit.

    And this comment is written on the dropbox article from August 25, 2023.

  7. John G. said on August 26, 2023 at 1:29 am

    First comment > @ilev said on August 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    For the God’s sake, fix the comments soon please! :[

  8. Kalmly said on August 26, 2023 at 4:42 pm

    Yes. Please. Fix the comments.

  9. Kim Schmidt said on September 3, 2023 at 3:42 pm

    With Google Chrome, it’s only been 1,500 for some time now.

    Anyone who wants to force me in such a way into buying something that I can get elsewhere for free will certainly never see a single dime from my side. I don’t even know how stupid their marketing department is to impose these limits on users instead of offering a valuable product to the paying faction. But they don’t. Even if you pay, you get something that is also available for free elsewhere.

    The algorithm has also become less and less savvy in terms of e.g. English/German translations. It used to be that the bot could sort of sense what you were trying to say and put it into different colloquialisms, which was even fun because it was like, “I know what you’re trying to say here, how about…” Now it’s in parts too stupid to translate the simplest sentences correctly, and the suggestions it makes are at times as moronic as those made by Google Translations.

    If this is a deep-learning AI that learns from users’ translations and the phrases they choose most often – which, by the way, is a valuable, moneys worthwhile contribution of every free user to this project: They invest their time and texts, thereby providing the necessary data for the AI to do the thing as nicely as they brag about it in the first place – alas, the more unprofessional users discovered the translator, the worse the language of this deep-learning bot has become, the greater the aggregate of linguistically illiterate users has become, and the worse the language of this deep-learning bot has become, as it now learns the drivel of every Tom, Dick and Harry out there, which is why I now get their Mickey Mouse language as suggestions: the inane language of people who can barely spell the alphabet, it seems.

    And as a thank you for our time and effort in helping them and their AI learn, they’ve lowered the limit from what was once 5,000 to now 1,500…? A big “fuck off” from here for that! Not a brass farthing from me for this attitude and behaviour, not in a hundred years.

  10. Anonymous said on September 28, 2023 at 8:19 am

    When will you put an end to the mess in the comments?

  11. RIP said on September 28, 2023 at 9:36 am

    Ghacks comments have been broken for too long. What article did you see this comment on? Reply below. If we get to 20 different articles we should all stop using the site in protest.

    I posted this on [https://www.ghacks.net/2023/09/28/reddit-enforces-user-activity-tracking-on-site-to-push-advertising-revenue/] so please reply if you see it on a different article.

    1. RIP said on September 28, 2023 at 11:01 am

      Comment redirected me to [https://www.ghacks.net/2012/08/04/add-search-the-internet-to-the-windows-start-menu/] which seems to be the ‘real’ article it is attached to

  12. RIP said on September 28, 2023 at 10:48 am

    Comment redirected me to [https://www.ghacks.net/2012/08/04/add-search-the-internet-to-the-windows-start-menu/] which seems to be the ‘real’ article it is attached to

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