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    Wall Street Journal: ‘Cookies’ Cause Bitter Backlash

    The Wall Street Journal reports on at the increasing scrutiny from the public and lawmkers of “cookies,” which 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. 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.

    The Journal reports:

    Since July, at least six suits have been filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against websites and companies that create advertising technology, accusing them of installing online-tracking tools that are so surreptitious that they essentially hack into users’ machines without their knowledge. All of the suits seek class-action status and accuse companies of violating the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and other laws against deceptive practices.

    In 2001 and 2003, courts ruled that websites could place small text files called “cookies” on machines. Cookies allow sites to remember users, so they don’t have to log in user information on each visit. But they can also be used to track users across websites, compiling a profile of a user’s browsing interests. […]

    The new lawsuits challenge the older rulings because modern tracking tools are more sophisticated than early cookies. […]

    Another suit, filed earlier this month, accuses Fox Entertainment Group and the American website of using a new kind of cookie—known as a Flash cookie—that can “re-spawn” tracking files that users have deleted, without users’ knowledge. News Corp., which owns Fox Entertainment Group as well as The Wall Street Journal, declined to comment on the litigation. […]

    Mobile tracking is also on the rise, as online advertisers attempt to reach consumers on smartphones. Lawyers involved in the suit over mobile websites say companies are using technology that makes it difficult for users to block or prevent tracking. That suit alleges that a company called Ringleader Digital Inc. tracks users of Apple Inc.’s iPhone by assigning each phone a unique ID number, similar to a cookie. If a user deletes the ID number, the suit claims, it respawns itself moments later.

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