Should I Delete my Web Browser Cookies?

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader 'r clee' writes:

" Dear Dennis,

Every web browser I've used has the option to 'disable third party cookies'. Most articles I've read on privacy say not to allow third party cookies; however, recently, I visited to read a post, but found my comment wouldn't be accepted unless I enabled third-party cookies. Now, Google is telling me that my Firefox is 'outdated'. When I click the link to find out more detail, it says if I don't enable third party cookies, my email interface will switch to the plain vanilla HTML format ... [Is this] a stab at deeper data mining [with respect to user tracking and advertising]? Is there any reason we should oblige [the request to enable third party cookies in my web browser]? I suspect many of your readers ... would appreciate your views on this subject. "

My Response:

That's a great question; thanks for asking.

First off let's discuss what a browser cookie does. Browser cookies are used by web browsers to store small snippets of information about you. The information stored in cookies is then relayed to websites when needed. For example, cookies are used to keep track of certain states of information (such as whether you've logged in or logged out of a website), and can be completely harmless; that said, cookies can also be used to track user behavior for the purpose of advertising.

What Happens if You Disable Cookies?

If you disable cookies, you may not be able to: login to some sites, change user preferences or make certain selections, or visit certain pages; also, sites won't remember who you are, or some features on sites will be missing or broken. In short: many of today's websites require that you keep cookies enabled, whether they're third party cookies or not.

Super Cookies, Digital Fingerprints, and Advertising

For the reasons I just mentioned, I don't recommend disabling cookies in your web browser. Of course, there will be people that disagree with me on my point of view and that's their choice. But, there's also another reason why I don't recommend disabling cookies, and it has to do with the fact that advertising and user tracking has evolved far beyond simply relying on browser cookies.

For example, there are tracking images on web pages that are automatically generated using your web browser, which is used in conjunction with complex hashing algorithms based on your browser metadata and IP address. This is referred to as canvas fingerprinting, and does a much better job of tracking you than simply using a browser cookie.

Also, Internet providers are already tracking their own users and selling the data to third party advertisers, whether you use web browser cookies or not. This method of tracking has been dubbed "Super Cookies", though technically I believe it has nothing to do with cookies on your web browser. The practice of Super Cookies has already been in use for a while as far as I understand.

So, Should You Delete Browser Cookies?

Choosing whether or not to delete browser cookies is completely up to you. Keep in mind that if you delete your browser cookies, some sites may not be able to track you (for the purpose of advertising), but at the same time, you will likely lose web site preferences and persistent login information.

If you go this route, I suggest you leave your cookies enabled in the web browser, then later delete the cookies and temporary Internet files every time you finish using the browser. Of course, this requires a lot of clicking. Optionally, you can set up crap cleaner (ccleaner) or similar, and clear our your browsers on a schedule. If you need help automating this process, I would be more than happy to help -- just send me an email using the contact form on our site and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

PS: If you enjoyed the information you've just read, please pass it along to friends by email, Facebook, or similar.

About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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ConnieB's picture

Very informative and helpful article. Thank you!

Dennis Faas's picture

You're welcome! If anyone needs help with their PC or has a computer questions in general, please don't hesitate to contact me using the contact form.

LouisianaJoe's picture

In Firefox, you can open a private window. When the window closes, cookies get deleted that were created in that window. Other tracking done by web pages, as mentioned in this article, will still occur.

Another browser to consider is Comodo Dragon. A good review here:

tmd_3514's picture

But the OP asked specifically about *3rd party cookies*. Is that a subset of cookies for which you'd have a different reply?

Dennis Faas's picture

A cookie is a cookie, no matter if it's third-party or not - they all have similar functions. Initially third-party cookies were used specifically for tracking and advertising, and were respected as such.

Now that's not so much the case. In the advent of Facebook and lax privacy EULAs, the definition of "cookie" has also expanded. There is also no way to tell who (which website) is selling or sharing your information - whether it's first or third party. As such, my answer stands.

Read this article for more info: