HELP FILE: Flash cookies revisited

Sunday, May 23, 2010; G04

Q: What's this about Flash cookies?

A: This came up during Friday's Web chat. It involves a somewhat obscure part of Adobe's widely used Flash Player software.

Flash cookies, what Adobe calls "Local Shared Objects," were in the news after the release of a critical study last summer. Like browser cookies -- tiny, inert text files -- they give Web sites a scratchpad of sorts on your computer. In a Flash cookie's case, that can consist either of site-specific preferences or data cached for later reuse. But the study also found that some sites abused Flash cookies to restore browser cookies that users had removed.

Since then, Adobe has provided irritatingly little help to users. Its interface for controlling this feature remains hidden on a special, poorly labeled page, which resides at the domain name of the once-separate company that developed Flash: http://macromedia.com/support/documentation/en/flashplayer/help/settings_manager.html. (Memo for Adobe: Put this at a simpler address, such as http://adobe.com/flashplayer/settings).

My advice is to follow the practice I recommend with browser cookies, disabling the "third-party" ones placed by sites besides the one you're visiting (in most cases, advertisers). Select the "Global Storage Settings" link and click to clear the checkbox next to "Allow third-party Flash content to store data on your computer." In most cases, that shouldn't cause any problems.

Under the "Website Storage Settings" category, you can see which sites left Flash cookies -- four at a time, with no option to search through them.

Bear in mind, there are bigger privacy risks than cookies of any sort. But now that Adobe seems to have decided it could use some more friends, it needs to fix this issue.

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or robp@washpost.com. Visit http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward for his Faster Forward blog.

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