How to survive in a cookie environment

“By continuing to browse this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies to offer you content and services tailored to your interests.”

Have you had enough of this message that has been popping up all over the Internet these past few months? As we all know, the easiest thing to do is click “OK” and you’re rid of it.

But if you should ever get it in your head to say “No”, just one click won’t do it – you need a whole tutorial.

First option: block cookies in your browser

Every Internet browser allows you to block third-party cookies – those files that follow you around on the Internet from site to site.

  • Firefox: Settings -> Privacy tab -> Rules for setting conservation -> Use custom settings for history.
  • Internet Explorer: Tools -> Internet Options -> Privacy tab -> Settings -> Move cursor up -> click OK.
  • Chrome: Settings menu -> Show Advanced Settings -> click Content Settings -> then select the “Block third-party cookies and site data” tick box -> click OK.
  • Safari: Settings -> Safari -> Block cookies -> Always block.

Second option: Use an add-on

Following episode 1, we were given a list of tools to track or block certain trackers, including cookies.

Disconnect, for example, is a small extension that displays the cookies used by the site to which you are navigating on the browser bar at all times.

Third option: Use the ShareMeNot add-on

The first two methods make it possible to bypass cookies from advertisers; however, social networks also aim their radar at our browsers (you will learn more about that in episode 3 of Do Not Track). To remove these, you must use the ShareMeNotextension, which blocks social network buttons and prevents you from being stalked by Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Note that the new PrivacyBadger extension combines the functionality of Disconnect and ShareMeNot.

You can also test all of your favourite websites with Cookiepedia, to see the type and number of cookies that are placed on users’ machines (only available in English). That is what we’ll be doing in episode 2.

“Just don’t go on the Internet”

But to be fully protected from tracking is not easy. The advertising industry is working on new ways to continue online profiling despite the predicted decline in cookies. As the head of an advertising agency confided in a moment of candour in a Forbes article: “If you don’t want anyone to know what you do on the Internet, just don’t go on the Internet.”.

The cookies on which the warning messages on our browsers focus are already technologically obsolete.

Fingerprinting identifies each computer that browses a site according to its configuration (software installed, owned fonts, clock settings etc.). The website Am I Unique ? gauges the accuracy of this tool, which can distinguish between different computers connected to the network almost without fail. Am I unique on the Internet?   Yes, indeed! PrivacyBadger has reported working on a method to block fingerprinting.

Trackers are always one step ahead

The latest invention is zombie cookies, which rise up from their own ashes after having been deleted by users. Turn, an American advertising agency, managed to develop a system that identifies users to Verizon, an Internet access provider, even if they block or delete cookies. Faced with the outcry over revelations by Julia Angwin (interviewed in Do Not Track) on these practices, Turn had to give up and kill its zombie cookies for good.

But the science of tracking continues to develop. A bit like the new substances that are undetectable by anti-doping tests, trackers are always one step ahead of the activists who are developing the tools to escape them. Tracking the trackers – it’s an endurance sport.

Vincent Glad