Adobe will simplify users' ability to control which information is stored on their machines by its Flash video web plug-in, the company said today. The announcement comes on the heels of a December Federal Trade Commission report expressing concern about the use of locally stored objects, or “Flash cookies,” to track users’ online behavior.
In a blog post published on the Adobe site, Flash product manager Emmy Huang wrote, "There are concerns about the use of local storage to store tracking information - or of greater concern, to restore tracking information to a browser cookie that a user has intentionally deleted. This use of local data storage has raised questions about privacy. So we’re continually working to make sure that users have better control over the local data stored by applications running in Flash Player."
At present removing this data information requires a visit to the Adobe site, which Adobe admits "could be easier to use." According to Huang the company is now collaborating with browser vendors to establish a method for clearing local data from within the browser interface itself, similar to the way in which users can control HTML cookies. So far Mozilla and Google have agreed to implement the feature, but Adobe says it expects other vendors to roll it out in the near future.
In December the FTC called for a browser-based "do-not-track" mechanism through which consumers could effectively opt out of all online behavioral tracking in one fell swoop. The solution proposed by Adobe goes some way to addressing that request, though users would still have to control their HTML cookies and Flash-related locally stored objects independently. In addition, the Adobe mechanism would not apply to local storage data potentially collected by other third-party plug-ins.
In December a Mozilla spokesperson told ClickZ the company was working with its peers to evaluate and establish methods to provide users with closer control over their privacy, but said do-not-track "does not provide a comprehensive solution to the issue."
To offer users even greater access to the data planted on their machines, Adobe said it also intends to include access to Flash settings from the control panel or system preferences options on Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems.
The intended function of Flash cookies was to streamline users' interactions with the product, remembering information such as login details and volume settings, for example. However, advertising providers including Specific Media have been implicated in lawsuits claiming those companies have been using the data to re-instate HTML cookies previously deleted by users.
It’s the potential use of the technology for those purposes that concerns the FTC, and appears to have informed their view that the HTML cookie-based opt-out solutions currently being implemented by the ad industry itself are not sufficient to control users' privacy.
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Jack Marshall was a staff writer and stats editor for ClickZ News from 2007 until August 2011.
March 19, 2014