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Adobe Flash Cookies Raising Privacy Questions Again 103

Posted by kdawson
from the flash-in-the-pan dept.
Nearly a year after we discussed the privacy implications of Flash cookies, they are in the news again as the US government considers revising its cookie policy. Wired covers a study out of UC Berkeley exposing questionable practices used by many of the Internet's most-visited Web sites (abstract). The most questionable activity the report exposes is known as "respawning": after a user has deleted browser tracking cookies, some sites will use information in Flash cookies to recreate them. The report names two companies, Clearspring and QuantCast, whose technologies reinstate cookies for other Web sites. "Federal websites have traditionally been banned from using tracking cookies, despite being common around the web — a situation the Obama administration is proposing to change as part of an attempt to modernize government websites. But the debate shouldn't be about allowing browser cookies or not, according Ashkan Soltani, a UC Berkeley graduate student who helped lead the study. 'If users don't want to be tracked and there is a problem with tracking, then we should regulate tracking, not regulate cookies,' Soltani said."
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Adobe Flash Cookies Raising Privacy Questions Again

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  • Piece of cake... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @03:14PM (#29029003)

    ln -s /dev/null ~/.macromedia

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @03:15PM (#29029035) Journal
    Spread across a reasonable number of annoyed individuals, paying to have a private investigator tail high level officers and major shareholders of advertising corporations that engage in this sort of thing 24/7/365 would be fairly inexpensive and amusing.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @04:06PM (#29029905)
    Thanks for the link! Note: That does not clean multiple installations of Opera, or clean other browsers.

    Adobe has become an evil, badly managed company, in my opinion. Buy Creative Suite, and the new DVD requires a download of more than 300 Megabytes to bring it up to date.
  • by causality (777677) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @04:29PM (#29030165)

    The problem is, we're failing society as professionals in the IT field -- part of our work (which most likely isn't earning you money) is teaching our friends, family, and interested parties about these problems and how to protect themselves from it because nobody else can or will. That's what has allowed this kind of crap to permeate into the mainstream... It wouldn't be tolerated if people knew better.

    I am all for spreading the word and teaching anyone who is willing to learn about these things. It's an important subject and it should be obvious that the current status quo where tracking is commonplace depends entirely on the widespread ignorance that is present. However, this is more like advocacy than prevention and only addresses part of the problem.

    The real problem is that so many users are passive and rather uninvolved in their own experience. It's never good strategy to wait around for somebody else with an altruistic motive to assist you when the needed information is out there and basic literacy is the only requirement for using it. I am not arguing that every average user should become an expert, only that some personal responsibility is in order. Balking at the rather modest reading/research effort that would be necessary to have a solid understanding of the basics is a luxury that you can't afford in the face of active attempts to compromise your privacy. I would compare it to saying that you don't feel like getting up to bar the door when there is an enemy at your gates, and it makes about as much sense (i.e. none) in terms of decision-making.

    Part of the reason why people "don't know better" is that they assume it's someone else's job. At a corporation where you are not a member of the IT staff, indeed it IS someone else's job. At home where you have full control over your LAN and your equipment, it's your job and you can either take care of it or fail to do so. The price for failing to do so is that you get taken advantage of for the sake of some marketer, or worse. If people could understand it that way, in terms of someone trying to screw them over without their consent, they would delight in the knowledge that there is something they can do about it. Suddenly it wouldn't be "boring computer stuff" but would be about personal empowerment. I think clearly showing that it has a price is the best chance to get rid of this willful helplessness. If you really want to see gigantic improvements not just in unethical tracking, but also in malware and botnets and online fraud, what you need are not informed users, but users who are willing to inform themselves. Then the information they need is not some black box bestowed upon them by members of an esoteric priesthood, but would instead become a useful tool that they take into their own hands.

    Perhaps one day we'll have computing appliances that are essentially maintainence-free, so that safely using them requires no more understanding of computing than using your washer/dryer requires an understanding of plumbing and electrical engineering. Right now we don't have that, and I question just how desirable it would be anyway. Computers are not toys or curiosities anymore and haven't been for a long time now. They are increasingly essential to everyday life. Every time you make a financial transaction or surrender personal information, it behooves you to make some effort to have some understanding of what you are doing and how it can be used. Otherwise you are being irresponsible and are failing to protect your interests and there's nothing wrong with saying so. We live now in an age where any literate adult with access to Google can achieve knowledge and understanding that was once the exclusive domain of experts. What we really need is to restore the wonder and sense of empowerment that goes along with this so that people no longer view the most basic research as an unreasonable chore. If that doesn't happen, then this passive victim mentality will cause the average person to be little more than an electronic serf, only it will be a serfdom that they choose because something else was always more important to them.

"Pascal is Pascal is Pascal is dog meat." -- M. Devine and P. Larson, Computer Science 340

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