When you need to know more about the websites someone is visiting (you want to make sure your kids haven’t been straying on the darker side of the web, say) then checking their cookies has always been one option. But the information you’ll get is often very limited, maybe just to a domain name, and so won’t always be particularly useful.
Google Analytics Cookie Cruncher may be able to help, though, by focusing on Google Analytics cookies. These contain much more data, and in a standard format, so with just a little work you may be able to see the sites someone has browsed, the search keywords used to locate them, the date and time of the last two visits, and the number of times a site has been visited in total.
To give it a try, first download the file (it’s a mere 562KB), unzip it and launch GA Cookie Cruncher.exe (it’s portable, there’s no installation required).
Next, choose the browser you’d like to check (IE, Firefox, Chrome and Safari are supported).
You’ll then need to point the program at the cookies for that browser. A Help pane tells you where the relevant folder is normally located, which is handy (although it would have been better still if the program had defaulted to that location in the first place).
Finally, choose a location for your reports, click Process, and in a second or two you should have (probably) three CSV files with details of the cookie history for this browser (checking IE on our test system produces the files IE_utma.csv, IE_utmb.csv and IE_utmz.csv, for example).
As tracking techniques go, this obviously has major limitations. If your user deletes or edits their cookies, uses private browsing, or just visit sites which don’t use Google Analytics then it won’t tell you anything at all.
If you’re monitoring less technical users, though – or you’re just looking for any information you can find on their web activities – then Google Analytics Cookie Cruncher can be a useful way to uncover a little extra Internet history.