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Advertiser settles charges for use of Adobe Flash cookies

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An internet-based advertising network has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges stemming from its use of Adobe Flash cookies to track internet users' browsing history, even when they took steps to evade monitoring.

Boston-based ScanScout agreed to make it easier for web users to opt out of tracking, as part of a settlement of charges that it deceptively claimed the tracking could be stopped simply by changing browser settings to block cookies. Because the firm used LSOs, or local shared objects based on Flash Player, to track people's online behavior, the recommended browser settings had no effect on the the monitoring.

The settlement comes after a host of companies – including Facebook , Microsoft, McDonalds, the CBS Network, and a Walt Disney subsidiary – have faced legal actions for using cookies and other techniques to track the browsing histories of web visitors, even when they took pains to keep that information private. In many cases the tracking technologies used were extremely hard for the average person to detect and stop and were able to recover tracking cookies users had already deleted, a term referred to as cookie respawning.

Under the privacy policy challenged by the FTC, ScanScout said: “You can opt out of receiving a cookie by changing your browser settings to prevent the receipt of cookies.”

Under the settlement announced on late Monday, ScanScout agreed to replace that section with the following:

“We collect information about your activities on certain websites to send you targeted ads. To opt out of our targeted advertisements, click here.” The hyperlink will take visitors to a screen that allows them to opt out of any future tracking by the company. The company will also embed the hyperlink within or immediately next to targeted display ads when it is possible to do so.

In the course of the FTC's investigation of ScanScout, the advertising network joined forces with Tremor Video, which is also subject to the settlement order. PDFs of the complaint and agreement are here and here. ®

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