How to remove tracking cookies

Cookies – tiny files placed on your Mac by websites you visit – can be very useful. They’re used to ‘remember’ usernames or the contents or a shopping trolley at websites you visit. When you next visit the site, it reads the cookie from your Mac and uses the data in it to populate the username field in the login window or the basket on an online shopping site. However, cookies can also be used for less innocent purposes, including tracking you around the web. Here, we’ll show you how to remove tracking cookies.

What are tracking cookies?

Cookies are small files placed on your computer by websites you visit, containing data about what you did on the site. However, as well as the website itself putting cookies on your Mac, some sites allow advertisers to place their own cookies, so-called ‘third party cookies’. These are tracking cookies. Recent versions of Safari block third-party cookies by default, but if you use another browser like Chrome or Firefox, there may be some scattered around on your Mac. These third party cookies are the reason why, when you search for, say, a brand of trainers on Google, you see adverts appear on sites you visit for those same trainers. The advertiser is tracking you.

Should I be worried about cookies?

Are adware tracking cookies bad? In a word, yes! Mostly, cookies are mostly pretty harmless. And first-party cookies are very useful – without them the experience of browsing the web would be significantly diminished. However, if you’re concerned about privacy or don’t like being tracked by advertisers, you should be concerned about third-party, or tracking, cookies. In addition, tracking cookies are also used by some malware. So if you have downloaded malware, even if you have deleted the browser extension, toolbar, or other visible signs of it, you should also check for and remove cookies. 

find tracking cookies

How did they get on my Mac?

By default, most web browsers allow websites to place cookies on your Mac because, in most cases they’re useful, and in some cases even necessary for a site to function properly. Most browsers allow both first- and third-party cookies, though Safari allows only first-party. 

 How can I avoid getting tracking cookies?

Most web browsers have a setting that allows you to request that websites don’t track you. However, there is no guarantee that websites will comply with that request. And, of course, sites that harbor malware will just ignore it. Apple’s Safari goes a step further, it has an option in Preferences>Privacy that allows you to ‘Prevent cross-site tracking’ and it is turned on by default, preventing third-party cookies from being stored on your Mac. So, using Safari is one way to avoid tracking cookies. You could also use DuckDuckGo as your default search engine. Unlike the search engines, it doesn’t record or track your search queries, or pass the data to third parties. 

How to remove tracking cookies

By now you probably want to know how to remove those nasty tracking cookies. Here’s how to do it.

remove tracking cookies

How to remove tracking cookies in Safari

  1. Click on the Safari menu and choose Preferences.
  2. Choose the Privacy tab.
  3. Select Manage Website Data
  4. To get rid of all cookies, choose Remove all then Remove Now.

How to remove tracking cookies in Chrome

How to remove tracking cookies in Chrome
  1. Launch Chrome and type this into the address bar: chrome://settings/content/cookies.
  2. Choose See All Cookies and Site Data.
  3. To get rid of them, choose Remove All. Or review them and delete only those you want to remove.

How to remove tracking cookies in Firefox

  1. In the Firefox address bar, type: about:preferences.
  2. Choose Privacy & Security from the menu on the left.
  3. Select Cookies and Site Data.
  4. Press Clear to remove all cookies.
  5. If you’d rather choose which sites’ cookies to remove, choose Manage Permissions and then use Exceptions to specify which sites you want to accept cookies from. 

The steps above will remove either all the cookies stored by a web browser, or only those you select. But they won’t stop cookies from being placed on your Mac in future. For that, you’ll need to use the ‘Block all cookies’ option in Safari, described above, or use the options at chrome://settings/content/cookies in Chrome to tell it how it should deal with cookies. Firefox also has options at about:/preferences that allow you to choose from levels of privacy with regard to cookies and tracking.

Tip:

Tracking cookies are frequently used by malware like browser hijackers and even when you clear the cookies, it’s possible you may still have traces of adware on your computer. MacPaw and their flagship app, CleanMyMac X has come up with a fast way to clean browser traces. All of them.

You can download CleanMyMac X for free here (a version that is notarized by Apple)

  1. Launch the app.
  2. Click on the Privacy tab.
Privacy Module CleanMyMac

This will keep your Mac cookie-free.

You can also configure CleanMyMac X to scan your Mac automatically and protect it from adware in real time.

scan your Mac automatically and protect it from adware in real time
  1. Click on the CleanMyMac X menu and choose Preferences.
  2. Choose Protection.
  3. Check the box next to ‘Enable real-time monitoring’.
  4. Close Preferences.

Now, CleanMyMac X will continue to monitor your Mac for malware, even when it’s not running. 

One more tip

For most articles online you can enable a “Reader mode” that disables ad cookies and banners for less intrusive reader experience. Here’s how to enable it in Safari:

Reader mode

Final thoughts

Tracking cookies are used by websites to follow you around the web. They are often used by advertisers in order to show you adverts relating to sites you’ve visited or products you’ve searched for. But they can also be used by malware distributors to steal data for adware. By following the steps above, you can remove tracking cookies and manage how browsers deal with them in future. You should also scan your Mac for malware, in case cookies have been placed browser hijackers or you have adware tracking cookies, using an anti-adware tool like CleanMyMac X. It’s really useful app to have on your Mac these days.

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CleanMyMac X

Your Mac. As good as new.