Privacy lawsuit targets 'Net giants over "zombie" cookies

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Ryan Singel:

The lawsuit (.pdf), filed in US District court in San Francisco, asks the court to find that the practice violated eavesdropping and hacking laws, and that the practice of secretly tracking users also violated state and federal fair trade laws. The lawsuit alleges a "pattern of covert online surveillance" and seeks status as a class action lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by Joseph Malley, a privacy activist lawyer who also played key roles in other high profile privacy lawsuits, including a $9.5 million settlement earlier this year from Facebook over its ill-fated Beacon program and a settlement with Netflix after the company gave imperfectly anonymized data to contestants in a movie recommendation contest.

"The objective of this scheme was the online harvesting of consumers' personal information for Defendants' use in online marketing activities," wrote Malley, who called the technique "as simple as it was deceptive and devious."

Unlike traditional browser cookies, Flash cookies are relatively unknown to Web users, and they are not controlled through the cookie privacy controls in a browser. That means that even if a user thinks they have cleared their computer of tracking objects, they most likely have not.

Adobe's Flash software is installed on an estimated 98 percent of personal computers, and has been a key component in the explosion of online video, powering video players for sites such as YouTube and Hulu.

Websites can store up to 100KB of information in the plug-in, 25 times what a browser cookie can hold. Sites like Pandora.com also use Flash's storage capability to pre-load portions of songs or videos to ensure smooth playback.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim Zellmer published on August 21, 2010 1:47 PM.

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