How To Protect Your Privacy from Flash Cookies

How to Protect Your Privacy From Flash Cookies.

Flash cookies, also know as Local Shared Objects (LSOs), received widespread coverage in privacy news starting in 2009. Following on the heels of a report released by UC Berkeley, Wired.com published an exposé on the use of Flash cookies to track users online, regardless of how the privacy controls in their browsers were set.

Increased scrutiny of this abuse has led Adobe, which makes Flash, to address the issue of privacy controls for LSOs. Several third-party apps and browser plug-ins now allow you to manage Flash cookies, and Adobe recently released back-end software that will eventually allow users to control LSOs computer-wide.

 

How Flash cookies can abuse or violate your electronic privacy

Flash cookies serve an important role in your online experience, and their use to circumvent privacy controls is a byproduct, not an intended feature. Just like normal HTML cookies, the Flash equivalent allow media intensive websites to store convenient information, such as where you left off viewing a video or how loudly you want to hear the audio.

The electronic privacy issues surrounding Flash cookies arose because of how LSOs are stored. Flash is a third-party plug-in to your browser, albeit a plug-in installed by more than 98 percent of the computers on the Internet. As such, no easy method of deleting Flash cookies exists. If you want to manage the Flash cookies on your computer, you currently need to visit an obscure Adobe website. There is more that you can do to learn how to protect your privacy from flash cookies.

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Taking advantage of the fact that Flash cookies are not controlled via a local browser setting, certain websites have developed so-called “respawning cookies.” When you delete your HTML cookies via the regular channels, a corresponding Flash cookie detects the absence of its partner. The Flash cookie then contacts its home server to reinstall a backup copy of your deleted cookie. Examples of websites that employ this technique include ESPN.com, Hulu.com, and even Whitehouse.gov.

 

What Adobe and others are doing to safeguard your online privacy and how to protect your privacy from flash cookies.

Outside of privacy protection, there are few reasons why the average user would want to tweak Flash cookie settings. Adobe did not initially place a high priority on accessibility. That changed with growing awareness of Flash cookie tracking.

In early 2011, Adobe released an application-programming interface (API) allowing software companies to implement Flash cookie management into their browsers. Adobe also announced that the next version of Flash Player would include system-wide controls that users could tweak in their computers’ control panels or system preferences, regardless of which browser they choose.

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In addition, browser makers have begun implementing a variety of “do not track” features, inspired by the U.S. Congress’ interest in passing online privacy legislation. The Mozilla Foundation, which makes the Firefox browser, has proposed an HTTP header that would prevent websites from collecting personal data. This would complement the BetterPrivacy plug-in already available for the browser. Google, along similar lines, recently released a plug-in named Keep Your Opt-Outs, which blocks a wide range of online data trackers.

 

Take online privacy protection into your own hands right now and learn how to protect your privacy from flash cookies.

Until Adobe and the browser developers make good on their promise to offer easy and effective privacy controls for Flash cookies, you will need to take privacy protection into your own hands:

  • If you’re unsure what cookies are or how they work, check out Are Cookies Jeopardizing Your Online Privacy? in the ReputationDefender Resource Center. This will give you the background necessary to optimize both privacy protection and your online experience.
  • Next, follow the instructions in this Resource Center article on how to manage and delete Flash cookies.
  • When you have established a privacy protection baseline, you’ll want to install browser plug-ins to safeguard you from future online tracking cookies. Not all browsers offer such functionality yet, but Firefox and Chrome do. For Firefox, install BetterPrivacy. For Chrome, install Keep Your Opt-Outs. If you use Internet Explorer or Apple Safari, you’ll need to rely on third-party Flash cookie managers to protect your privacy.
  • On Windows, CCleaner can delete Flash cookies and a range of other items. On Mac, you’ll want to download a similar app called Flush.
  • Finally, consider a privacy-monitoring tool such as ReputationDefender’s MyPrivacy. Designed to scour the Web for any trace of your personal data, MyPrivacy can undo some of the damage previously wrought by your old, now-deleted tracking cookies. 

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