Feeds

Disney sued for spying on kids with 'zombie cookies'

Snooping with 'little available redress for users'

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Walt Disney's internet subsidiary and several of its partners have been sued for allegedly using cookies based on Adobe's Flash Player to track highly personal information about their users, many of whom were minors.

The LSOs, or locally shared objects are better known as Flash Cookies, and their ability to gather detailed user information over long periods of time without a trace has been understood since at least 2007. Now, attorneys representing people who browsed websites that employed the technology claim it was used to track them in ways that violate the sites' privacy policies.

For instance, the habits of one individual who browsed articles on depression, were uniquely tracked across a network of partners, according to the complaint.

The suit was filed in US District Court in Los Angeles against Walt Disney Internet Group, Clearspring Technologies, Warner Bros. Records, and several other companies that shared the cookies. The affiliates fail to adequately warn users about the information-sharing arrangement, which according to the complaint, allows “zombie cookies” to be restored even after a user has gone through the trouble of deleting them.

“Using Flash cookies to re-identify users overrides this control, with little available redress for users,” the complaint, which seeks class-action status, states. “Although users may arguably protect themselves by periodically deleting their Flash cookies as well, the means for doing so are extremely obscure and difficult even for savvy consumers to use. Flash specifically attempts to obfuscate data within each LSO by controlling the format and forcing a binary serialization of any stored data, thus bypassing the web browser's same-origin security policy, allowing an application hosted on one domain to read data or code hosted on another.”

A research paper (abstract here) released last year by UC Berkeley researchers famously exposed the ability of Flash cookies to surreptitiously “respawn” deleted cookies. It served as a wakeup call about the uncanny persistence of the tracking files. What's more, Flash cookies can store up to 100 KB of data, 25 times more than normal cookies.

The suit alleges the companies violated a raft of laws, including the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the California Computer Crime Law, the California Invasion of Privacy Act and trespass and personal property statutes. The complaint is here. ®

Bootnote

To Adobe's defense, company officials have stated in comments (PDF) submitted to the FTC that their policy “condemns the practice of using Local Storage to back up browser cookies for the purpose of restoring them later without user knowledge and express consent.” That's a great first step. Now the company should release a free consumer tool that makes it easy to manage and delete the new-fangled cookies.

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
iWallet: No BONKING PLEASE, we're Apple
BLE-ding iPhones, not NFC bonkers, will drive trend - marketeers
Multipath TCP speeds up the internet so much that security breaks
Black Hat research says proposed protocol will bork network probes, flummox firewalls
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
Microsoft's Euro cloud darkens: US FEDS can dig into foreign servers
They're not emails, they're business records, says court
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?