Jul 282010
 July 28, 2010  Posted by  Court, Featured News, Online, Surveillance, U.S.

Ryan Singel writes:

A wide swath of the net’s top websites, including MTV, ESPN, MySpace, Hulu, ABC, NBC and Scribd, were sued in federal court Friday on the grounds they violated federal computer intrusion law by secretly using storage in Adobe’s Flash player to recreate cookies deleted by users.

At issue is technology from Quantcast, also targeted in the lawsuit. Quantcast created Flash cookies that track users across the web, and used them to recreate traditional browser cookies that users deleted from their computers. These “zombie” cookies came to light last year, after researchers at UC Berkeley documented deleted browser cookies returning to life. Quantcast quickly fixed the issue, calling it an unintended consequence of trying to measure web traffic accurately.

Flash cookies are used by many of the net’s top websites for a variety of purposes, from setting default volume levels on video players to assigning a unique ID to users that tracks them no matter what browser they use. (Disclosure: The last time we reported on this issue, we found that Wired.com used one to set video preferences.)

The lawsuit (.pdf), filed in US District court in San Francisco, asks the court to find that the practice violated eavesdropping and hacking laws, and that the practice of secretly tracking users also violated state and federal fair trade laws. The lawsuit alleges a “pattern of covert online surveillance” and seeks status as a class action lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by Joseph Malley, a privacy activist lawyer who also played key roles in other high profile privacy lawsuits, including a $9.5 million settlement earlier this year from Facebook over its ill-fated Beacon program and a settlement with Netflix after the company gave imperfectly anonymized data to contestants in a movie recommendation contest.


The case number is 10-CV-5484, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Read more on Ars Technica.

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