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    CNet: Suit alleges Disney, other top sites spied on users

    CNet News reports on a lawsuit in California alleging that top Web sites, including those owned by Disney and Demand Media, spied on and tracked site visitors’ Internet use by using surveillance techniques such as “Flash cookies.” Those types of cookies — also called “local shared objects, LSOs” — are separate from the HTTP cookies most people know about. Last year, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, released a report revealing that Adobe Flash cookies can “respawn” or “re-create” regular cookies that people have cleared from their browsers. This meant that, even if a person used private browsing mode or manually cleared their HTTP cookies and browsing history, this did not affect Flash cookies, which were stored in a separate location from regular HTTP cookies. So the Flash cookies remained, and they had the ability to re-create the HTTP cookie and other data that consumers thought had been deleted.

    After a public outcry over the Flash cookies’ tracking capabilities, Adobe announced that its Flash Player 10.1 will include a private browsing mode, which will automatically clear Flash cookies. CNet reports:

    Attorneys representing a group of minors and their parents filed the suit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, records show. The suit alleges that Clearspring Technologies, a software company that creates widgets and also offers a way to serve ads via widgets, is at the center of the wrongdoing.

    Web site operators such as Disney, Playlist.com, and SodaHead are “Clearspring Flash Cookie Affiliates,” the plaintiffs allege in their suit. Clearspring set “Flash cookies on (affiliate site) users’ computers…online tracking device(s) which would allow access to and disclosure of Internet users’ online activities.”

    The Web sites working with Clearspring knew users weren’t just tracked at sites owned by affiliates, but were followed without their knowledge wherever they went online, the defendants wrote in their suit. […]

    A similar lawsuit was filed last month against Clearspring rival Quantcast, as well as a host of that company’s clients, including ABC and NBC. The same law firms that filed that suit–Parisi & Havens, and the Law Office of Joseph Malley–were responsible for filing the recent complaint. […]

    The kind of information Clearspring and its affiliates gathered was personal and far reaching, the plaintiffs wrote in their complaint. They allege the data was obtained by tracking users as they moved “across numerous Web sites, even spotting and tracking users when they accessed the Web from different computers, at home and at work.

    “The sensitive information may include such things as users’ video-viewing choices and personal characteristics,” the plaintiffs continued, “such as gender, age, race, number of children, education level, geographic location, and household income.”

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