Cookies make web browsing convenient by saving our user names and passwords as well as other unique identifiers about us from one web session to the next. Cookies are also a treat for marketers as they uniquely identify visitors and when combined with web traffic logs, provide advertisers your focused browsing habits and specific buying interests. Online retailers rely heavily on cookies to customize their websites so shoppers see ads and products that are tailored to their interests. So when cookies aren’t enough, mobile advertisers target online holiday shopping with supercookies. These same supercookies are invading your privacy, but are they unstoppable?
Mobile ad blockers are no match for supercookies
First revealed back in 2011 by researchers at Stanford University, supercookies are cookies that cannot be erased by normal means. They were first being used by websites like Hulu and MSN. In 2014, The Washington Post revealed that some telecommunications companies were tracking their customers with supercookies by injecting code into network traffic without consent. The firms eventually allowed users to opt-out and drop supercookie mobile tracking to placate customers. Ever since Apple enabled ad blocking apps in their app store, advertisers have been looking for more robust and stealthy ways to track activity. Here again, supercookies find themselves indispensable since they cannot be disabled simply by blocking mobile ads and all too often, are enabled by default in your mobile device.
Supercookies throw off shopper and advertiser relationship balance
Many shoppers trade anonymity and privacy for convenience in their shopping. This online shopping experience is fine so long as there is a give and take and some degree of transparency. Shoppers allow retailers to ‘observe’ their online shopping patterns by sending them targeted ads in trade for the convenience of not having to remember usernames and passwords. Everyone is happy unless the deal feels lopsided or one party is not forthcoming about what they’re doing.
Even your private browsing mode cannot avoid supercookies
Today, most of our favorite websites utilize supercookies to track users with unique data packages specifically designed to circumvent the privacy filter on both desktop and mobile browser. Supercookies cleverly take advantage of alternate storage areas in our browsers allowing unique pieces of code to be permanently stored. This code is difficult to remove and allows retailers to learn your browsing habits even if you block your cookies or delete them altogether. So even when your browser is set to ‘private’ or ‘incognito’ mode, you are not free from supercookies.
Protecting your privacy by managing your supercookie diet
There are a few things you can do to protect your online privacy and manage your diet of supercookies. Some programs allow you to save specific desired cookies used for trusted banking or stock trading sites and also selectively delete undesirable cookie and supercookie tracking. Cookies are one thing but until advertisers and carriers are more transparent in their data collection efforts, we will continue to see all types of resistance to supercookies.
This post is sponsored by HPE’s Business Value Exchange
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Thanks this was really timely for my holiday shopping! Was able to shop faster by using private browser mode.
What ad blockers do you recommend? Thanks!
Scott Schober says
That’s a good point. There should be significantly less overhead and loading when you browse in private mode and use ad blockers. I personally don’t use any ad blockers for desktop browsing. My pages load fast enough and I don’t mind mind or just ignore many ads. As far as mobile phones go, I use iPhone and Crystal ad blocker in Safari. It has noticeably sped up page loads and eliminated many obnoxious ads which kill battery life and my time.