In the current electronic age, data collection and tracking are commonplace aspects of using the internet. Although they have fundamental distinctions and serve different functions, trackers and cookies both play crucial roles in this process. Understanding the differences between trackers and cookies is vital to understanding the complexity of internet tracking.
Trackers are pieces of content (like embedded scripts, tracking cookies, pixel tags, etc.) on websites that are designed to derive data points about your browsing behavior and interaction with the website.
Many parts of information can be gathered by trackers, including surfing patterns, user behavior, and even demographic details. Advertising networks, for example, receive this data from them and use it to target particular audiences and personalize advertisements. Examples of trackers that are frequently used include Google Analytics, Facebook Pixel, and several ad tracking scripts. Moreover, you can check your IP address, as trackers use public IP addresses to identify and monitor online activities.
Cookies, on the other hand, are small data files generally stored on a user’s computer/browser. They can be used for tracking purposes as well, but the website that you are visiting may use its own cookies (called first-party cookies) for legitimate purposes such as remembering logins, items in a shopping cart, user preferences, etc.
First-party and third-party cookies are the two primary categories of cookies. The website you are currently on sets first-party cookies, which are often used to improve the user experience. They retain track of additional custom settings, shopping cart items, and login credentials. Conversely, third-party cookies are established by websites other than the one the user is currently on. These are frequently employed for monitoring and data gathering.
Key Differences Between Cookies and Trackers
With the ability to accept or reject cookies and handle certain of them individually, users have more control over cookies. Trackers are usually harder for users to manage because blocking or restricting their activity usually requires the use of browser extensions or privacy solutions.
The primary purposes of cookies are to preserve website operation and improve the user experience. The main goals of trackers are analytics and marketing-related data collection and analysis.
Cookies can be first-party, meaning they are made by the website you are now on, or third-party, meaning they are made by external domains. Outside parties usually own trackers, which tend to be third-party components.
Cookies store data locally on the user’s device and are accessible to the website that created them. Trackers collect and transmit data to external servers, which can be accessed by multiple parties.
Cookies are generally more transparent, and users can view and manage them through browser settings. Trackers are less transparent and can be challenging to identify and control without specialized tools.
While cookies can raise privacy concerns, their primary purpose is not invasive data collection. Trackers have a more direct impact on user privacy, as they are designed for extensive data collection, potentially leading to more significant privacy concerns.