Beware of the New Supercookies
By on May 2nd, 2012

An individual’s right to privacy on their computer should be made a law.

Supercookies or flash cookies are not really cookies. They are a method by which your computer is given a unique number that can be read every time you revisit the creator website. They are used by sites like msn.com and hulu.com (as reported by WSJ) to track user activities. Once this invasion of privacy was brought to the notice of these companies, they said that the tracking was unintentional and would be discontinued.

One major issue is that a regular cookie clearing software may be unable to detect and clear these supercookies. Though these supercookies are intrusive, they do not seem to do more than act like unique identifiers for a machine (like cookies). The issue about why companies are storing data, which I cannot delete, on my computer without my permission still requires to be addressed.

These companies may use supercookies for reasons such as determining various patterns of user behavior and so on, but this method of data mining is a balant disregard for an individual’s right of choice about what they can allow to be stored and/or run on their machine by external parties.

Closer to home, Adobe’s Flash Player is another player in this tracking game. Every time you use it, the Flash player writes on your HDD. One clue on the riskiness of this is when we are left performing multiple updates on our Flash players to counter a new bug that the folks at Adobe find in their software every time a new threat is exposed. The issue at this point goes beyond simple privacy and moves into the ‘interference’ domain. These bits of data may cause issues with my computer and may even cause it to be at risk. The problem continues as these super cookies are hard to remove, and when the only way to counter this is by using a new computer every time, it makes it more of an uphill battle.

You can read Fight Identity Theft‘s ‘New Breed of Super Cookie Defies Removal – Almost‘ for details on how to remove flash cookies. Also, you can check how easy it is to identify your browser’s fingerprint using http://panopticlick.eff.org/. It collects data about your computer using your browser and Javascript to let you know how easily your browser can be identified on the web.

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Author: Edrea de Sousa Google Profile for Edrea de Sousa
A textbook twister and a writing typhoon. You can also catch me on Twitter (handle: edrea20).

Edrea de Sousa has written and can be contacted at edrea@techie-buzz.com.
 
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