Users Sue Internet Companies Over Hidden 'Flash Cookies'

Lora Bentley

If you don't want your personal information and browsing history tracked, be sure to clear that history and delete browser cookies after every session. Or use "in private" search offered by Internet Explorer or similar anonymous search features found in Firefox, Chrome and others.

 

How many times have I heard or read similar advice? Enough that I've lost count-but the thing is, it usually works. As users are finding out, however, technology exists that cannot be found or deleted as easily as traditional cookies can. And often that means users who think they are doing everything they can to keep their searches private are being tracked without their consent.

 

The New York Times reported earlier this week that Sandra Person Burns and other users like her are suing Internet companies that use "flash cookies" to collect information about them and their online activity. Specifically, the story says:

Since July, at least five class-action lawsuits filed in California have accused media companies ... of surreptitiously using Flash cookies ... The suits contend that the companies collected information on the Web sites that users visited and from the videos they watched, even though the users had set their Web browser privacy settings to reject cookies that could track them.

According to attorneys representing plaintiffs in the cases, the issue is not the technology itself; the issue is the companies are using it without giving the plaintiffs the chance to opt out. (Google Buzz anyone?) One company involved in the suits says it uses the technology "for measuring purposes only ... not..targeted content delivery." Many others declined to comment for the New York Times story.

 

Of particular concern to privacy advocates is companies' ability to use "flash cookies" to restore traditional browser cookies after they have been deleted.



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