Are Flash Cookies Really Evil?

Chris HolmokThe new privacy hot topic on the web is Flash cookies. Are they really an evil plot to steal your private information and share it with the world?
No, not really.
But they certainly are not like regular cookies – and they can do some pretty sneaky stuff. They also are not all that new. They use a technology available since version 6 (available since 2004) in Flash called Local Shared Objects (LSO). LSO allows a flash movie to store cookie-like data on a user’s computer.

Flash cookies can be a useful tool for Web and flash developers. In fact, about half of the Web’s busiest sites are now using them. However, there are currently five class-action lawsuits that involve some sneaky cookie tactics – stuff like “Zombie Cookies.” Great name, these Zombie cookies can re-spawn regular web cookies after users delete them – so after a user goes into their browser and deletes a regular browser cookie, that cookie can be recreated from the data that is stored in the Flash cookie.

But just like the whole “Web cookie” scare in the early days of the Web, not all Flash Cookies are evil. And because of their usefulness, they are not going away anytime soon. With a little education to the Web-browsing public, Flash Cookies can be reined in and managed.

Adobe has provided a settings panel to manage website storage and global storage

These tools allow you to set if and when flash cookies are stored. They also allow you to view and delete flash cookies set by specific websites.

So are Flash cookies an evil force that needs to be stopped? No.

Are they sometimes being used to do some questionable tactics that threaten your privacy? Yes.

These questionable tactics assume that people on the Web don’t know what Flash cookies are, and they don’t know how to remove or manage them. So with a little education and a little information, we can battle the shady side of Flash cookies and use them for good, not evil.

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