How to Manage Cookies on Your Phone

Cookies are everywhere, even on your mobile devices.
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In the context of the internet, cookies are small, sometimes encrypted text files placed by websites in your browser’s directory and retrieved the next time you visit the site or load another page on the site. These cookies can be from the site or from third parties, such as ad networks.

We'll teach you what cookies are used for, how cookies are used for mobile, and how to manage cookies on your phone by using the best ad blockers and VPNs. 

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What are cookies used for?

Many websites use cookies for their core processes, so rejecting those blocks much or all site functionality. Cookies enable smoother, more efficient site use by visitors by storing your site-specific information and preferences such as theme, language setting, privacy preferences, and even user ID and password so you don’t need to reenter those each time you visit a new page or leave and return to the site.

On e-commerce sites, cookies also store your shopping cart contents and quick checkout options.

Similar to TV commercials paying for most broadcast content, ads pay for the majority of the online content we freely access. Cookies help advertisers format ads on your computer; improve ad cost efficiency; attribute user engagement; and customize offers based on your browsing and search history. Given that ads are an established fact of online life, if you’ve just searched for lawn mower reviews, wouldn’t you rather see potentially useful ads for lawnmowers or fertilizer rather than ads for, say, female hygiene products?

On the other hand, many find the use of cookies objectionable, intrusive, or even verging on cyber-stalking. Some questionable cookie uses include building and selling users’ online profiles; identifying targets for e.g. credit repair offers based on online behavior that implies financial struggles; adjusting prices down or up based on the user’s perceived affluence; and/or not offering or even denying services based on medical and/or other information. 

What challenges do cookies face in the mobile environment?

On mobile, cookies try to do the same things they do on your desktop or laptop computer. Computer cookies inhabit your browser(s), but on mobile, they also need to operate in your various native applications (more commonly known as apps).

This sets up a distinct challenge for cookies.

On your computer, whether your operating system is Windows, macOS, or Linux, and whether you use Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, or any other browser, your cookies can count on your browser using hypertext markup language or HTTP. This provides a uniform environment. Since most users use the same browser on the same computer most of the time, a cookie can see nearly all your online activities.

In mobile, not only are there different types of devices running different operating systems with different mobile web browsers that all have their own rules, but those browsers play in different “sandboxes” from the native apps on the same device. Further, each of those apps plays in a different sandbox from each other. Finally, while you probably only use one computer, you may have a work cell phone, a personal cell phone, a tablet, one or more gaming consoles, and possibly a car-based internet-connected device.

While reports of the demise of cookies on mobile are likely a bit premature, tracking your online behavior across all those mobile devices, networks, and apps does pose a mostly insuperable challenge for the humble cookie. As a result, advertising vendors face increasingly tough questions from their clients about targeting prospective customers and accurately calculating conversion rates on mobile devices.

Another result is that users’ privacy preferences, such as tracking opt-out, entered on one app are unlikely to be respected on other apps or on the mobile web browser, or vice versa, simply because the ad networks don’t recognize the different instances of visitor interactions as belonging to the same person.

How to block cookies on mobile

Are you looking for a more private online experience? If so, you have the option to disable and even block cookies on your mobile device. We've created a guide on how to manage cookies, but you can also use an ad blocker or a virtual private network (VPN) to block cookies. 

Ad blockers can do more than just block those annoying pop-ups; many of them also come with internet tracking capabilities. Many of the best VPNs also come with ad-blocking capabilities, which can also help with blocking cookies. Here are some ad blockers and VPNs you can use to block cookies on mobile:

  • Total Adblock: According to our testing, Total Adblock effectively blocked tracking ads, blocked invisible trackers, and created a nearly unique fingerprint for our browser. Total Adblock also has apps for iOS and Android, so you can block ads on your smartphone with ease. 

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  • NordVPN: As one of the top VPN providers, it's no surprise that Nord provides ad-blocking along with its standard VPN features. The Threat Protection feature can block ads, trackers, and malicious sites for a secure web browsing experience. 

    Get NordVPN | Read Our NordVPN Review

  • ExpressVPN: ExpressVPN is a premium VPN that provides premium performance. One of its many notable features is Threat Manager, which is designed to block apps and websites from tracking your online activity or engaging in other similar activities. 

    Get ExpressVPN | Read Our ExpressVPN Review

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