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The Internet Privacy

New Technique for Tracking Web Site Visitors 590

Posted by timothy
from the hi-there-we-remember-you dept.
bigtallmofo writes "According to Jupiter Research, 58% of web surfers deleted cookies from their system in 2004. This has sent a loud message to marketers in regard to consumer's preference as to tracking their online activities. The marketers have responded with PIE. Persistent Identification Element (PIE) is a technology that uses Macromedia's Flash MX to track you even without using cookies. Macromedia has created a page to instruct users on how to disable this."
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New Technique for Tracking Web Site Visitors

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  • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Monday April 04, 2005 @01:19PM (#12135182)
    It gives you a reason to use

    Flashblock [mozdev.org]
  • by LogicX (8327) * <slashdot AT logicx DOT us> on Monday April 04, 2005 @01:23PM (#12135239) Homepage Journal
    Although I was initially shocked by reading this, I'm not too concerned because I already use FlashBlock [mozdev.org] Firefox extension.

    From the site: "Flashblock is an extension for the Mozilla and Firefox browsers that takes a pessimistic approach to dealing with Macromedia Flash content on a webpage and blocks ALL Flash content from loading. It then leaves a placeholder on the page that allows you to click to view the Flash content."

    In most cases I've found this very handy, as ads on websites have recently been switching to a flash format (Yes, I could also be running the adblock extension).

    For the few sites that I need it for (MBNA's Shop Safe Applet) I just click where the flash wanted to load, and it allows it.

    I highly recommend this extension.

    I now understand what those little flash icons trying to load in the corner of the browser were.
  • by DrEldarion (114072) on Monday April 04, 2005 @01:24PM (#12135257)
    I agree. I doubt more than 5% of people actually even know how to get into the part of their browser where they can delete the cookies.

    Deleting cookies has become a pretty common thing for anti-spyware, "system speed-up", security, and all sorts of other programs to do. Incidentally, these programs will most likely also clear out the PIE elements, which'll make it just as worthless.
  • Re:Firefox plugin? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 04, 2005 @01:30PM (#12135314)

    Hitting Ctrl-+/Ctrl-- is the standard way to fix the "slashdot formatting bug" in Firefox. It causes the page to get redrawn, which fixes everything.
  • by mopslik (688435) on Monday April 04, 2005 @01:30PM (#12135316)

    Who in the right mind would allow random Flash applications access to their camera and microphone? What use would this have?

    Flash-based chat rooms, perhaps? I recall seeing a how-to article for this exact purpose somewhere on Macromedia's site a few years back.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 04, 2005 @01:34PM (#12135367)
    Feh. I got your misguidefool right here pal.

    It's not misleading to say that cookies are evil, because some of them *coughDOUBLECLICKcough* definitely are. Yours might be as innocuous as bunny poop, and yipyowyay for you. But the fact that you "put them there for a reason" doesn't mean I agree with your reason, and if I choose to flush your cookies and you choose to log me off, I probably just won't come back to your site.
  • Flash Shared Objects (Score:4, Informative)

    by bsd4me (759597) on Monday April 04, 2005 @01:40PM (#12135427)

    I'm not sure about blocking it, but at least on Windows, the Flash local shared objects are stored in C:\Documents and Settings\user\Application Data\Macromedia\Flash Player and have a file extension of .sol. It is rather easy to delete them. Remote shared objects are a different story, but I don't see how these are really different than server side scripting tricks using sessions (eg, use a php script to serve up an image, and start a session).

  • by tfitch (200333) on Monday April 04, 2005 @01:40PM (#12135433) Homepage
    Let's see you got 1 and 1/2 out of your 4 points correct.

    1) Bandwidth hungry.
    Not always true. Think about Flash applications. One Flash movie load of 200K can replace a dozen or more page views at 100K each. So 200K vs. 1200K. Which is less?

    2) Annoying advertising.
    Yep!

    3) Section 508 compliance.
    You're not even close to right here. Flash does support section 508 compliance. It's just like any web technology, you have to take the time to do it. http://www.macromedia.com/macromedia/accessibility /features/flash/ [macromedia.com]

    4) Google does index Flash
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=Google+indexi ng+Flash&btnG=Google+Search [google.com]

    Conclusion. You don't know what you're talking about. I hope you get modded down now that these facts have been linked for you.
  • Re:Flash(id)blocker (Score:1, Informative)

    by H8X55 (650339) <(jason.r.thomas) (at) (gmail.com)> on Monday April 04, 2005 @01:42PM (#12135456) Homepage Journal
    the one that already exists is for mozilla/ firefox. here [mozdev.org]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 04, 2005 @01:47PM (#12135513)
    they are a spyware firm, they can add bookmarks to your MSIE without permission via flash

    code
    http://acvsrv.mediaonenetwork.net/client/acv211.js [mediaonenetwork.net]
  • Not Quite (Score:3, Informative)

    by aepervius (535155) on Monday April 04, 2005 @01:47PM (#12135516)
    If flash was used to really implement 1) as you purport I would agree, but 99% of the stuff out there is to add animation to the navigation (example : most official game site those day) and other gimmick, and frankly up until now, a dozen web page with a few picture isn't taking you 1200K as far as I know. Plain old html is the easiest to navigate, and read and load.
  • by lpevey (115393) on Monday April 04, 2005 @01:59PM (#12135651)
    I don't find this comment particularly "Interesting." If someone calls your home, that should be opt-in. If you are visiting a site, the developer of that site has every right to track your page views while you're there, to show you advertisements while you're there, and even to use whatever information you may have provided when you registered to use the site, along with information derived from your pattern of usage, to show you advertisements that might be more relevant to your tastes. Revenue from such ads is probably how the site stays in business (if it is a for-profit organization). If you don't like that, you have every right to not go to such sites.

    I don't understand the controversy over cookies. Unless you share a computer with someone you don't trust or are visiting sites you don't care to admit you visit, why even bother to delete them? What do I care if sites track my browsing activities? If you go to the bodega on the corner to do your shopping, the guy who works there has every right to track how often you visit, what you normally buy (so he can keep it in stock) and even to ask about your grandmother whom he happens to know was sick last week. He has every right to track his customers, whether formally or just mentally.

    I don't really mind cookies on my computer. On the other hand, I do mind havng to re-type my username and password for subscription sights whenever I get jumpy and decide to delete all my cookies, "just in case." Cookies allow developers to do more useful things with a stateless medium. I'm surprised that 58% of users regularly delete them.
  • by sjbe (173966) on Monday April 04, 2005 @01:59PM (#12135655)
    Since flash based sites are annoying for a variety of reasons (read about them in other posts) I've taken to using the mobile versions of websites. For instance Hollywood.com [hollywood.com] is a useful site for finding movie showtimes but it's heavily flash/shockwave based and very annoying to view. So I use their version for mobile devices [hollywood.com] which has the information I actually care about (movie locations and showtimes) without all the extra fluff. There's nothing preventing you from viewing these on a regular browser and they are MUCH faster. True, they don't have all the features of the regular sites but if you just need the basics they are great. These sites also will help those of people who constantly whine about how bloated everything is. (you know who you are...)

    Some others include:
    Amazon.com [amazon.com]
    American Airlines [flightlookup.com]
    Slashdot [slashdot.org]

  • by 192.168.0.1 (872231) on Monday April 04, 2005 @02:00PM (#12135660)
    Just remember that FlashBlock requires Javascript to be enabled to function (according to their Known Problems page [mozdev.org]). So, if you regularly browse with javascript disabled, FlashBlock probably won't work for you.
  • by mabu (178417) on Monday April 04, 2005 @02:03PM (#12135701)
    The global configuration is kind of spotty at best in helping you determine how to turn some of this stuff off. I assume that maybe if you set the allocated storage space value to "none", then maybe it will disable the use of local stored objects. Otherwise, this looks suspciously like a cookie-type manager where you can only delete the information that has already been stored.
  • by SirSlud (67381) on Monday April 04, 2005 @02:18PM (#12135862) Homepage
    Never really understood why users dont like tracking cookies.

    A few things happen if you dont have cookies, the most important being that we can still do pretty much everything we can do with a cookie, only with less accuracy (since the fallback is to track ads seen/clicked via your IP address):

    - we can't implement frequency capping very well. this means you have a much higher chance of seeing the same damn ad, again and again and again. you like?

    - we can't tie cookie data to private user data. I'm sure some people try to (although everyone involved, including the user, would have to jump through some pretty annoying hoopes, which is why advertisers dont even bother trying. Beyond the fact that such an act is against virtually every privacy policy in existance, the chances of this happening is slim to none. I don't buy the tin foil hat fears here.

    - we can't send you to the right clickthru! I know we dont click on banners very often, but when you do, wouldn't you rather go to the correct clickthru rather than an the clickthru beloning to somebody else's impression who is behind the same firewall as you?

    I hate advertising and spyware as much as the next guy, but ad network tracking cookies are harmless. Honestly, why are people scared of them? The more accurately we can report ROI to advertisers, the less annoying advertising becomes since advertisers are able to optmize their campaigns to ensure that they're not wasting impressions on folks who are less likely to care about them.

    Is this simply a 'if they cant track me, maybe internet advertising will do away' thing? Because we can still track you, by IP .. only the user ends up paying for our less accurate user tracking. I've been working in this industry for a long time, and I *hate* advertising. I honestly believe that cookie tracking does the user an immense favour by allowing us to keep the signal to noise ratio between user and ad traffic higher.

    One thing for sure is that internet advertising isn't going away, and sites that you like (this one included) stand a much better chance of staying subscription-free if the advertiser pays /. more for every impression or click. More optimized delivery = more money for publisher = less ads for you.
  • by xocp (575023) on Monday April 04, 2005 @02:19PM (#12135869)
    http://www.macromedia.com/support/documentation/en /flashplayer/help/help02.html [macromedia.com]

    I believe the above link applies to these settings. It wasn't obvious from Macromedia's website where to go for this.
  • by denis-The-menace (471988) on Monday April 04, 2005 @02:24PM (#12135919)
    That's fine but nobody is saying which tab in here to click
    http://www.macromedia.com/support/documentation/en /flashplayer/help/settings_manager.html [macromedia.com]
    and what to turn off
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 04, 2005 @02:26PM (#12135941)
  • by Jaime2 (824950) on Monday April 04, 2005 @02:26PM (#12135943)
    Flash is only a few features short of being as dangerous as ActiveX, only in a cross-platform way. As long as Macromedia is on the consumer's side, it won't cross the line. As soon as they start getting revenue from other source than sales of Flash design products, new invasive feature will start creeping in. At first they will be relatively harmless. But as the revenue shifts more towards online entities, Macromedia will start to pay less attention to the potential side effects of their technology. They already have a near monopoly, conventional business logic says now is the time to cash in.

    BTW, does everyone remember that Macromedia now recommends you download the Yahoo toolbar when getting the Flash Player? Whats next? Require it? Install it silently?

    Voice your opinion to Macromedia and see where it goes. If they ignore us, watch out.

    Interesting ActiveX parallel:
    Microsoft allowed embedded ActiveX in browsers for one reason only, to keep their marketshare. They hoped that users would like the "rich experience" of ActiveX over standards-compliant web pages and then would stick with MS platforms to avoid losing their new toy.

    Macromedia made Flash to create an new "rich experience" over standards-compliant web pages to gain and keep marketshare.

    ActiveX worked out so well (sarcasm intended), what makes Flash so different?
  • by RailGunner (554645) on Monday April 04, 2005 @02:52PM (#12136213) Journal
    Uh... you know what month this is, don't you?

    Seems they got you :)

  • by evilmonkey_666 (515504) on Monday April 04, 2005 @02:55PM (#12136250)
    I agree, blocking cookies will not make annoying ads go away...

    That's why I use adblock [mozdev.org].

  • Simple answer (Score:5, Informative)

    by Concern (819622) * on Monday April 04, 2005 @03:22PM (#12136528) Journal
    Perhaps the biggest source of apprehension about cookies, and probably the reason many anti-spyware tools and services filter them, comes from the practices of companies like doubleclick.

    These companies can effectively spy on your use of the web (if not other internet services with web components), watching you travel from site to site and learning your browsing, and even purchasing habits (yes, doubleclick does offer this level of integration with ecommerce sites, much as coremetrics etc does, as a 3rd party analytics provider), since their advertisements are, as they like to claim, "everywhere."

    The big conspiracy theory was that they would begin to correlate individual random unique ID's from within this massive database with actual people, by cooperating with major sites that both use doubleclick and register users. They could even mix in more traditional marketing databases, and that could give you can get a pretty nice, deep stare right through anyone's clothing, so to speak. I use that metaphor deliberately, because this kind of power is the equivalent of a sex fantasy to people in the business.

    And of course what's the point of doing all this if you can't sell that data all over the countryside?

    Yeah yeah, we were all paranoid nuts, pass the tinfoil, ha ha ha. Then they actually started doing it. They bought a major "traditional" consumer database firm and announced their plans to do exactly this. There was an uproar. All covered on slashdot, if I recall correctly. [slashdot.org]

    For the layman: Cookies are designed with an important limitation: the cookie "namespace" is tightly bound to the domain from which the cookie was set. This is necessary for a variety of reasons. You don't want site A reading site B's data, for instance.

    But a company like doubleclick has their servers hit directly from web pages all over the net. They can set a globally unique identifier cookie on their domain, and use it to track you as you hit pages on every other domain that includes a double click image. And of course they know where you hit their image from various data in the request; the "referer," querystring tagging, etc.

    So, uh, you can "trust" doubleclick to do the right thing and not reveal what they know about your travels through the big messy public library we call the internet. But I suggest you "Trust No One," even when the giant faceless marketing company doesn't have unprecedented means, enormous motive, and unique opportunity.
  • by snorklewacker (836663) on Monday April 04, 2005 @03:31PM (#12136611)
    That option isn't available in 1.2.9. I see that they offer a newer version from the site, but not the extensions catalog. It doesn't uninstall cleanly, I might add. Uninstalling the plugin, incidentally, simply removes the display of all flash, and they want you to hand-edit your UserContent.css file.

    It still wants you to restart your browser twice. No indication of this fact when you start up the first time. I wonder what other little surprises are lurking. As it is now, I wouldn't recommend this plugin to non-technical users.
  • by jtatum (164201) on Monday April 04, 2005 @05:27PM (#12138065)
    1. Point your browser to Macromedia's Global Storage Settings Panel [macromedia.com].
    2. Drag the slider to "None". The setting seems to take effect immediately.
    3. Click the last tab on the right, a picture of a folder with a green arrow pointing in.
    4. Any sites that have already stored data locally will show a value in the "used" column. I had a few suspicious entries in mine which were instantly cleared by clicking "delete all".
  • by UfoZ (680310) on Monday April 04, 2005 @06:18PM (#12138553) Homepage
    And here's how to properly block the popup in firefox (I'm using 1.0.2, no popup for me from your site):

    about:config
    privacy.popups.disable_from_plugins = 1
    dom.popup_maximum = 1

    If you want to be able to click links in Flash that open a new tab/window.

    privacy.popups.disable_from_plugins = 2
    If you want to disable popups from Flash entirely.
  • by Master of Transhuman (597628) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @03:36AM (#12141738) Homepage

    Marketing is more than advertising. Marketing also has to do with determining who needs your product - and in fact what your product should be in the first place. That part is not a problem.

    Advertising as I would prefer to see it is simply the concept of bringing the existence and capabilities of your product to the attention of potential customers in a nonintrusive way.

    Notice I did not say "bring dancing bears and bullshit" to the attention of anyone who happens to have his eyes and ears open within a light-year of same.

    As such, the best "advertising" is a simple brochure (or online equivalent) that says, "Here is the company, here is our product name, here is what it does. If you're interested, here's how you get it, what it will cost you, yada, yada."

    Period.

    Now, how you get that simple exposition to the attention of people who might be interested in it - without intruding on and offending millions of people who are fucking well NOT interested in it - is obviously a problem.

    A problem which I do not see ANYONE in the advertising industry trying to solve rationally.

    ANY form of intrusive advertising (with the possible exception of simple mailers - and I realize some people hate physical junk mail as much as they do spam) such as popups, tracking cookies, banner ads, spyware, etc. is an ASSAULT on the consumer and should be technologically eliminated if feasible and banned if not.

    I don't approve of governments regulating trade and commerce - but then I don't approve of governments creating legal fictions like corporations in the first place, either. If governments are going to exist, and allow corporations to exist, then they damn sure need to be banning ALL forms of intrusive advertising.

    A NON-intrusive ad is one that is not on my property, does not assault my senses unduly, does not cost me anything to become aware of (should I so choose), does not interfere with anything I am doing, and does not require or force a response from me in any way. A billboard by the road might be a reasonable example. A leaflet in my mailbox just barely qualifies (if I don't want it, I have to junk it - but that's not hard to do in a second).

    But having to receive and junk useless information is what the Web was supposed to get rid of - by allowing me to BROWSE and SEARCH for things - SEARCH to find things I KNOW I want, BROWSE to find things I DON'T know I want. (And by BROWSE, I do NOT mean wade through Web sites that are ninety percent advertising and ten percent content.)

    If I want to look for products I don't know I need, I should merely have to browse company Web sites and Web sites indexing those sites. I should not have to endure every Web site on the planet throwing gigabytes down my line in the vain hope that one percent of the people so assaulted will click through and gain them a revenue of one-tenth of a cent, or whatever, per click.

    Virtually everything done by advertisers on line or in the media does not qualify as nonintrusive advertising.

    So then, one asks, how do Web sites support themselves?

    By other means, obviously. Can't find any? Well, if you have a site that at least X number of people are truly interested in, price your site development and delivery expenses so you can charge the small enough subscription fee so people will pay it.

    Stop paying Web developers a hundred dollars an hour to produce crappy sites no one wants to visit because they are overloaded with unnecessary technology (like Flash) developed solely to deliver ads to people who want your content, not your ads.

    Pay for the site with the revenue you generate from doing something connected with what the site is about (consulting, or some service.) Use it as a marketing tool, not a revenue generator - that went out with the dot-com boom - unless you can actually deliver a service through the Web site.

    Stop trying to make money on the site by being a shill for crap and bullshit.

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