A recent lawsuit filed last week alleges that Disney, Playlist.com and some other top sites using ClearSpring technology to serve widgets on their websites, did more than just that. The suit alleges that in addition to traditional cookies, the ClearSpring scripts also installed flash cookies on a user’s computer. Interestingly, when a user deletes traditional cookies, the flash cookies remain intact and were used in this case to track user behavior beyond the scope of the website.
The suit claims that users were tracked even as they moved from one computer to another and private information such as their video viewing preferences or profile characteristics were also collected by ClearSpring. It is still not clear if Disney and other affiliate websites that ran ClearSpring widgets were aware of the abusive tracking or not, but even if they were not it doesn’t totally make them free of responsibility.
The suit traces its roots back to a study performed by UC Berkley researches showing that websites use Adobe Flash to surreptitiously collect data on users. The study claimed that ClearSpring and its rival QuantCast even use the flash cookies to re-instate traditional cookies after a user had removed them; a strategy knows as “re-spawning”.
All this doesn’t help the already troubled state of privacy when it comes to web and social media. With Google and Facebook already in hot water for allegedly compromising privacy of millions of users, something like this would even make things worse for internet companies. On the brighter side, the increased number of suits and claims of compromised privacy may just prove to be enough for the federal authorities to take serious action and come up with adequate regulations.