The Guardian takes a look at an investigation from Which? Computing concerning online privacy and Flash cookies. “Cookies” collect data about and can track users’ Internet searches and sites visited. Flash cookies (also called “local shared objects, LSOs”) are separate from the HTTP cookies most people know about.
In 2009, 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. Some dubbed these “zombie” cookies. There was public anger about the secret tracking, and a lawsuit.
Now, the Guardian reports:
An investigation by consumer group Which? has found that while standard cookies – snippets of computer code downloaded to a web browser which track online activities – can be managed and blocked, flash cookies are tougher to remove from a computer’s hard drive. […]
Originally [Flash cookies’] role was to store and retrieve user preferences in order to provide a better browsing experience. But the investigation for the latest issue of Which? Computing found that flash cookies are increasingly being used to invisibly track users’ online habits, even when standard cookies have been removed from a computer. […]
Which? is now urging the European commission to tighten up forthcoming legislation relating to flash cookies and the e-privacy of users.
Georgina Nelson, an in-house lawyer at Which?, said: “We believe that as the online behavioural advertising industry innovates to collect ever more data, the Information Commissioner’s office and the European Union need to wake up and make provision for the other tracking technologies which are being utilised to avoid detection or removal.” […]
Adobe has just announced the development of a tool designed to block flash cookies, while Microsoft said Internet Explorer 9 will include software tweaks to prevent users from being tracked. Google and Mozilla have also announced ‘do not track’ tools.