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Someone pointed me to an interesting blog post from StatCounter, that discusses how they were approached by an advertiser to place a ‘spyware’ cookie. What is a spyware cookie? It’s funny, I’ve always thought of “Spyware” as “Shitty desktop software that installs without user consent.” Which is, in fact, exactly what this wikipedia article says about it:

Spyware is computer software that collects personal information about users without their informed consent. The term, coined in 1995 but not widely used for another five years, is often used interchangeably with adware and malware (software designed to infiltrate and damage a computer respectively).

Interestingly enough, this entry has a strikingly different definition:

any software that covertly gathers information about a user while he/she navigates the Internet and transmits the information to an individual or company that uses it for marketing or other purposes

Ok, so I”m getting confused as hell. So next I did a Google Search for “spyware cookie” and clicked on the first entry and found this page.

Spyware Cookies are Intrusive
A spyware cookie is any cookie that crosses the line from helpful to intrusive. Spyware cookies are not interested in making your surfing experience better; the sole interest is to gather free marketing data to promote a sale of a product or service. Spyware cookies are placed on your machine by a consortium of websites that track your movement from one website to another.

Spyware cookies can track your every click and record all information you enter into non-encrypted online forms [...]

So I don’t know where the jackass from “” got his education in online technology, but a cookie is a text file. I will personally pay someone $100 if they explain to me how a TEXT file can track your every click and record all information you enter into non-encrypted online forms. But really, what IS the proper definition? Well, I don’t like any of the three above, so why not throw in an academic’s perspective while we’re at it — namely here’s a quote from Ben Edelman’s site:

[...]“spyware” software — programs that monitor user activities, and transmit user information to remote servers and/or show targeted advertisements. As distinguished from the design model anticipated by’s definition of adware (“any software application in which advertising banners are displayed while the program is running”), these spyware programs run continuously and show advertisements specifically responding to the web sites that users visit. Companies making programs in this latter category include Gator (recently renamed Claria), WhenU, and 180Solutions. Other spyware programs include keystroke recorders, screen capture programs, and numerous additional software systems that surreptitiously monitor and/or transmit users’ activities.

Wow, similar, but yet again, different! Ok, so since everyone and their mother seems to define spyware, I will too! I see a couple key themes: shitty, intrusive, advertising, personal information, communication, uberpowerful. So here goes!

Spyware, an uberpowerful software application that provides rather shitty and intrusive advertising on a desktop computer which communicates your personal information to some shady 14 year old in a basement in Oklahoma.

Spread the word! I won’t be the one to put this on wikipedia, but I dare someone to try! In all seriousness though — if we as an industry can’t get together an actually define what ‘spyware’ is, how can we stop it?

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  • Jenni

    Hi Mike,

    We jus thought we’d clarify what we’re talking about in our post.

    We don’t believe that we should abuse our member websites by sneakily using them to place OTHER people’s cookies on THEIR visitors’ browsers.

    When you log onto the StatCounter website, we display ads to fund the service. This can result in cookies being created. As happens on any site. In fact, as you browse the web, you pick up lots of cookies.

    Our point is, that we do not force extra cookies on the people who visit YOUR site. THAT is what is happening with another provider.

    If you have StatCounter:
    Clear your cookies.
    Visit your OWN site.
    You won’t see any cookies other than a StatCounter one – this means that we are NOT foisting nasty cookies on your visitors.

    If you have “the other provider”:
    Clear your cookies.
    Visit YOUR site.
    Gasp at the amount of cookies created – this is what all your visitors are being subjected to!

    Does that make sense?


    1) Info on you is sent to the advertiser any time you hit a site with ‘the other’ stats pack installed.
    2) The javascript behind a cookie can be changed at will to display pop-ups.
    3) The extra java script to load does slow down your site.

    Hope that clears things up a bit.

    If you need any further info, just shout!

    StatCounter Team

    (By the way, on our upgraded accounts, you have the option to disable the ads.)

  • Bob

    Putting aside privacy/ethic considerations, this is a strong tactic to use in the Battle Over the Cookie. Sitemeter has enough reach to give context data to a behavioral ad network, as long as that network is able to assess the “behavioral category” to which different sites belong.

    That said, privacy/ethics/disclosure considerations look like they will doom these plans.

  • Mike


    Let me apologize, I didn’t mean to let this post come off as negative towards your position, it was more a rant on the lack of the definition of ‘spyware’.

    If one DOES decide to accept behavioral cookies, make sure that the advertiser/network is a part of the ‘Network Advertising Initiative‘. This association is leading the way in setting standards on data collection and privacy. Working with one of these companies will ensure that your site does not end up with 9 different cookies which is absolutely unacceptable.

    Bob — You stole my thunder, that was going to be my next post =).

  • Jenni

    Hi Bob!

    No problem!!

    Thanks for the info – appreciate it.


  • Jenni

    Sorry – that was meant to read “Hi Mike”…



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    Spyware cookies on your machine is a website from a website to track to another consortium. The article is really very impressive. Thanks for sharing.