Computing Now Exclusive Content — September 2009

News Archive

July 2012

Gig.U Project Aims for an Ultrafast US Internet

June 2012

Bringing Location and Navigation Technology Indoors

May 2012

Plans Under Way for Roaming between Cellular and Wi-Fi Networks

Encryption System Flaw Threatens Internet Security

April 2012

For Business Intelligence, the Trend Is Location, Location, Location

Corpus Linguistics Keep Up-to-Date with Language

March 2012

Are Tomorrow's Firewalls Finally Here Today?

February 2012

Spatial Humanities Brings History to Life

December 2011

Could Hackers Take Your Car for a Ride?

November 2011

What to Do about Supercookies?

October 2011

Lights, Camera, Virtual Moviemaking

September 2011

Revolutionizing Wall Street with News Analytics

August 2011

Growing Network-Encryption Use Puts Systems at Risk

New Project Could Promote Semantic Web

July 2011

FBI Employs New Botnet Eradication Tactics

Google and Twitter "Like" Social Indexing

June 2011

Computing Commodities Market in the Cloud

May 2011

Intel Chips Step up to 3D

Apple Programming Error Raises Privacy Concerns

Thunderbolt Promises Lightning Speed

April 2011

Industrial Control Systems Face More Security Challenges

Microsoft Effort Takes Down Massive Botnet

March 2011

IP Addresses Getting Security Upgrade

February 2011

Studios Agree on DRM Infrastructure

January 2011

New Web Protocol Promises to Reduce Browser Latency

To Be or NAT to Be?

December 2010

Intel Gets inside the Helmet

Tuning Body-to-Body Networks with RF Modeling

November 2010

New Wi-Fi Spec Simplifies Connectivity

Expanded Top-Level Domains Could Spur Internet Real Estate Boom

October 2010

New Weapon in War on Botnets

September 2010

Content-Centered Internet Architecture Gets a Boost

Gesturing Going Mainstream

August 2010

Is Context-Aware Computing Ready for the Limelight?

Flexible Routing in the Cloud

Signal Congestion Rejuvenates Interest in Cell Paging-Channel Protocol

July 2010

New Protocol Improves Interaction among Networked Devices and Applications

Security for Domain Name System Takes a Big Step Forward

The ROADM to Smarter Optical Networking

Distributed Cache Goes Mainstream

June 2010

New Application Protects Mobile-Phone Passwords

WiGig Alliance Reveals Ultrafast Wireless Specification

Cognitive Radio Adds Intelligence to Wireless Technology

May 2010

New Product Uses Light Connections in Blade Server

April 2010

Browser Fingerprints Threaten Privacy

New Animation Technique Uses Motion Frequencies to Shake Trees

March 2010

Researchers Take Promising Approach to Chemical Computing

Screen-Capture Programming: What You See is What You Script

Research Project Sends Data Wirelessly at High Speeds via Light

February 2010

Faster Testing for Complex Software Systems

IEEE 802.1Qbg/h to Simplify Data Center Virtual LAN Management

Distributed Data-Analysis Approach Gains Popularity

Twitter Tweak Helps Haiti Relief Effort

January 2010

2010 Rings in Some Y2K-like Problems

Infrastructure Sensors Improve Home Monitoring

Internet Search Takes a Semantic Turn

December 2009

Phase-Change Memory Technology Moves toward Mass Production

IBM Crowdsources Translation Software

Digital Ants Promise New Security Paradigm

November 2009

Program Uses Mobile Technology to Help with Crises

More Cores Keep Power Down

White-Space Networking Goes Live

Mobile Web 2.0 Experiences Growing Pains

October 2009

More Spectrum Sought for Body Sensor Networks

Optics for Universal I/O and Speed

High-Performance Computing Adds Virtualization to the Mix

ICANN Accountability Goes Multinational

RFID Tags Chat Their Way to Energy Efficiency

September 2009

Delay-Tolerant Networks in Your Pocket

Flash Cookies Stir Privacy Concerns

Addressing the Challenge of Cloud-Computing Interoperability

Ephemeralizing the Web

August 2009

Bluetooth Speeds Up

Grids Get Closer

DCN Gets Ready for Production

The Sims Meet Science

Sexy Space Threat Comes to Mobile Phones

July 2009

WiGig Alliance Makes Push for HD Specification

New Dilemnas, Same Principles:
Changing Landscape Requires IT Ethics to Go Mainstream

Synthetic DNS Stirs Controversy:
Why Breaking Is a Good Thing

New Approach Fights Microchip Piracy

Technique Makes Strong Encryption Easier to Use

New Adobe Flash Streams Internet Directly to TVs

June 2009

Aging Satellites Spark GPS Concerns

The Changing World of Outsourcing

North American CS Enrollment Rises for First Time in Seven Years

Materials Breakthrough Could Eliminate Bootups

April 2009

Trusted Computing Shapes Self-Encrypting Drives

March 2009

Google, Publishers to Try New Advertising Methods

Siftables Offer New Interaction Model for Serious Games

Hulu Boxed In by Media Conglomerates

February 2009

Chips on Verge of Reaching 32 nm Nodes

Hathaway to Lead Cybersecurity Review

A Match Made in Heaven: Gaming Enters the Cloud

January 2009

Government Support Could Spell Big Year for Open Source

25 Reasons For Better Programming

Web Guide Turns Playstation 3 Consoles into Supercomputing Cluster

Flagbearers for Technology: Contemporary Techniques Showcase US Artifact and European Treasures

December 2008

.Tel TLD Debuts As New Way to Network

Science Exchange

November 2008

The Future is Reconfigurable

Flash Cookies Stir Privacy Concerns

by George Lawton

A recent academic study found popular Web sites are using cookies from Adobe's Flash plug-in to track users and, in some cases, are recreating HTTP tracking cookies after users have deleted them. Researchers at University of California at Berkeley, Clemson University, Jacksonville State University, and Louisiana State University conducted the study. Of the top 100 Web sites ranked by Quantcast, a Web-audience measurement service, the researchers found Flash cookies in use on 54 of them—including, for example, AOL and Hulu. The study looked at the privacy policies of these Web sites and found that, in some cases, the use of Flash cookies differed from the sites' official privacy policies. 

"We don't think there is anything bad about the technology," noted Chris Jay Hoofnagle, one of the study's coauthors and director of Information Privacy Programs for the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology." The issue is more about how it's used. Adobe saw it as a tool for storing preferences rather than tracking people. Advertisers started using Flash cookies because they found that HTTP cookies were not as effective. But this use represents an end run around a user’s privacy decisions." 

Although companies are making a greater effort to communicate their use of technologies such as cookies, Flash cookies are relatively new and not well understood. Hoofnagle explained, "Even if these cookies were disclosed to consumers, there is still a problem in that this is a relatively new technology that consumers don’t know how to mitigate."

Understanding Cookies

A cookie is the popular name given to a type of file that's stored on a user's computer as they browse a Web site. Cookies serve many useful functions such as storing users' site preferences and shopping cart items. They can also be used to store information about what users do on a site for generating ads that target specific user interests.

In some cases, third-party cookies are used across multiple sites. This raises privacy concerns because many users are wary of revealing personal information to third parties. "It's like you walk into a town and the merchants put a sticker on your back that tells everyone your shopping habits," said Ashkan Soltani, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Information and one of the paper's coauthors. 

As these concerns became mainstream, trade groups such as the Network Advertising Initiative and TrustE were formed to help companies create and communicate their privacy policies. All the major browser vendors created tools to help users better manage the cookies stored on their computers.

Bypassing the Browser

As Adobe's Flash grew to become the most popular browser plug-in, many Web sites began using Flash local stored objects (LSOs) as another mechanism for storing data on a user's computer in a Flash cookie. But Flash cookies operate independently of the browser's privacy settings, and they can be shared across multiple browsers or stored when a user is surfing the Web in a privacy mode.

Soltani said, "The main difference is that Flash cookies are not well known. You have to take extra steps to circumvent Flash cookies. The user has to know they exist, and then go to a special site to delete them through a Web page, which is not intuitive." 

There are other ways for tracking a user, such as using HTML 5 document object model (DOM) objects or JavaScript files. But these can be controlled by the browser's privacy settings. Other technologies such as Microsoft Silverlight and Google Gears could potentially serve cookies as well. Soltani said there needs to be a simple mechanism that lets a users control their privacy preferences across all these different tracking systems.

Need for Consistency

"Using Flash cookies or other tracking technologies isn’t necessarily an issue," said Eric Nelson, principal of Secure Privacy Solutions, "but these technologies have to be implemented with the recognition of an individual's rights to know how their personal information is being collected, managed, and tracked and the right to opt out of providing that information." Nelson recommends that organizations adopt policies addressing any information that could impact an individual's privacy. "It's not only a best practice, but may also protect the organization from charges of unfair or deceptive trade practices."

To change the settings on your Flash player directly, visit

To improve your privacy settings, download Better Privacy extension for Firefox:

To clean your cookies, go to 
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