This past weekend we saw another volley of rounds fired in the ongoing digital privacy wars. As with previous battles, this one started with the publication of an academic study and culminated in a class action lawsuit filed in the federal court in San Francisco.
The academic study was authored by U.C. Berkeley researchers (including my personal friends Chris Hoofnagle and Ashkan Soltani). It updated their 2009 study showing that online ad tracking firms Clearspring and Quantcast were using Flash capabilities in browsers to re-issue cookies even after users deleted them. The 2009 study inspired a class action lawsuit that Clearspring and Quantcast eventually settled for $2.4 million in cash and a promise to stop using the Flash cookie respawn method.
The July 2011 paper showed that while many websites had stopped using Flash cookies, some were using HTML5 Local Storage and a relatively new technique called Etags to follow individuals’ conduct on line. Because of the way these information methods work, a user deleting her cookies would nevertheless remain tracked by web analytics services, including San Francisco-based KISSmetrics.
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