24 January 2005
In most cases, when a banner ad triggers a spyware alert, it's more that your spyware is trying hard to impress you, than actually protecting you from any real harm.
Fred, How come when I go to Informationweek.com, they set off my Spybot S&D for Avenue A and DoubleClick? I would think that an honorable publication like Information Week would not use these spyware programs to monitor their users, but they do, and quite often! --- The Good Doctor and long time reader
You see, most so-called "tracking cookies" and "web bugs" are 100%, totally, utterly harmless. They function mostly as a turnstyle, counting the number of people who have viewed an ad, so the advertiser knows he's gotten his money's worth. It's an anonymous headcounting device; that's all. In most cases, the security risk is approximately zero! And in fact, these cookies and such actually benefit you by paying for the "free" page you're viewing!
But anti-spyware vendors give these simple counters scary names ("tracking cookies" and "web bugs") so you'll feel like their software's doing something useful.
Ironically, when overeager security tools block these counters, they lower the revenue to the web site owner, making it more likely that the free content will go away, or will be available by subscription only. So, blocking these simple counters can actually backfire, and cause you to lose access to free content.
Anyone who's read this newsletter for more than an issue or two knows that I'm slightly nuts about security--- there *are* real and imminent dangers out there, and you have to keep your guard up. But not all threats are equal, and in the grand scheme of online security, "tracking cookies" and "web bugs" are about the least important thing you need to worry about. Most times, they're utterly harmless; no more a threat to you than those hoses that highway engineers lay across highways to count how many cars drive past.
More info: http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20010621S0030