Travels with Paddles

a sea kayaking journal

Axel Schoevers (Photo: A. de Krook) Name:
Axel Schoevers
Rijswijk, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Flash Cookies and other Big Brothers

Regular Blog Reader Warning: This is Off-Topic!

A year ago I became aware of a thing called 'Flash Cookies'. Like anything on the internet (and in life) things are there to benefit us or can be (and often are) misused and a lot of shady areas in-between.

Most of us are aware of 'cookies' and know that it is our responsibility and choice to set them according to our privacy preferences. Within a browser session, cookies are for instance used to keep web form input available throughout a session. I have set them to clean them out after closing my internet browser(s).

Cookies are more and more used to specifically target advertising, based on our internet browsing and search activities. And as a result of growing user awareness, cookies are more and more 'disabled' (deleted after sessions) to prevent the build-up of a 'profile' for privacy reasons.

Off course, if one is logged-on to ones Google account and does all the searching from within that Google account, we have no control over that Google tracks all our activities to that user account (and not the IP address). The price of 'free' searching... Probably Google sells this as 'enhancing our searching experience' and to 'better be able to find what we are looking for'... (and target advertising along the way).

But now back to the Flash cookies. Not many sites even work anymore without us having Flash Player installed on our computer. And very few might know about Flash cookies.

Flash Cookies are now massively in use. Just look in the (Windows XP) folder:
C:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Application Data\Macromedia\Flash Player\\support\flashplayer\sys\

From the moment I read about it, I am thinking of Flash Player (cookies) as the ultimate Trojan. No, you cannot set it through your browser cookies settings. And yes, one finally can find the hidden 'documented' Flash cookies Settings screen.

Now that I thought I am in control of what I allow Flash Player to track, I was astonished to see it is still tracking websites (url's) that I visit, not adhering to my settings what I would think... And also puts that in your local settings.sol file.

Is this a problem?

Well, it depends. I still haven't found what I am looking for. But I do not want to find something that someone else decided for me to find. Anonymous browsing and searching is the way to go. Not that I have something dark to hide.

Remembering a bad experience in Cabo San Lucas (and probably all tourist locations). Being constantly harassed by people trying to sell you stuff for ALL the time you are walking on the street and even during dinner. Wearing a t-shirt with "Do not F#@!ing Harass me!" would not work as I would get more custom T-shirt offers and more, featuring the 'F-word'.

And that is also why Facebook will never become my cup of tea. Seeing the movie "The Social Network" does not help either. Such and such likes your T-shirt and before you know it...

My solution to Flash cookies is something as simple as going back to the 'good-old' DOS days with a batch file that I put in the folder:
C:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Application Data\Macromedia\Flash Player\\support\flashplayer\


Before running it, save the settings.sol file (that one contains your modified settings) from the \flashplayer\sys folder into the \flashplayer folder.

Adding a shortcut to this FLASHDEL.BAT batch file into my Windows start-up folder solves the issue (for now). If you want to use it, please use this carefully and at your own risk and only if you know your way around WindowsXP (and DOS). And Macromedia will sure change the workings in future versions.

And while this post is already so totally off the topic of kayaking, I could add that WindowsXP will be my last Windows version, having had horrible close encounters with Vista/Seven. And that Microsoft won't be around in ten years time. Time for me to retire from almost 30 years of CP/M, DOS and Windows and back to more kayaking.

And now wondering what Google AdSense will show next to this blog entry.

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