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Spyware Detection Programs Track Advertisers’ Cookies

Ben Edelman, an independent researcher stated that anti-spyware programs like McAfee's 'Internet Security Suite', Symantec's 'Norton Internet Security' and Microsoft Windows 'Defender' could lead to deleting Internet cookies.

Cookies are helpful tools to track which consumers have seen which ads, by tracing user activities over a period of time.

Edelman used 11 spyware detection programs in his study. These programs were applied to track cookies from 50 ad systems including 'ad networks', 'affiliate networks' and 'pay-per-click ad systems' of Yahoo and Google.

Six of the 'ad tracking cookies' of Yahoo's 'pay-per-click' were tested and detected with the help of anti-spyware programs . But no program found Google's 'pay-per-click' ad cookies. Google's conversion tracking cookies have an unusual form of cookie implementation. Google creates different cookies for different advertisers, which enables to store each advertiser's tracking data separately. This data can be retrieved on special request to Google. Google's cookies basically consist number strings. In contrast Yahoo's conversion tracking cookies include Yahoo's 'Overture domain' and therefore easily recognizable.

The study found that the ad network that had a wider reach was more readily tracked. For e.g., the 'affiliate networks' whose cookies were trapped in 'Spyware detection Webs' were in most cases the bigger ones. The case of ad networks was also the same where each of its cookies was discovered by eight of the 11-spyware tracking programs.

In some interesting recommendations Edelman says that the cookies can be separated into advertiser-specific chunks, of either 'first party cookies' or 'path specific third-party cookies'.

Anti-spyware firms should reassess their handling of cookies. In majority cases cookies are not a privacy threat but those that allow marketers to be better ones.

Cookie deletion cannot be really appreciated. It neither protects users' interests nor addresses their reasonable worries. Apart from that cookie deletion violates marketing practices.

Cookie deletion can also interfere with tracing ad conversion rates. It can prevent advertisers from paying correct commissions or determine the source of sales. Using either URL parameter to tell the origin of users or 'Private Labeling advertisers' can counter cookie deletion by keeping track of commission and sales much better.

Related article: Spyware Use Detection-Resistant Technology To Attack Computers

» SPAMfighter News - 9/23/2006

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