CNET's Greg Sandoval reported last month that several big-name sites have been sued in the U.S. District Court for using Flash cookies to spy on adults and children. At the center of this and similar suits are ad networks Clearspring Technologies and Quantcast that track your online activities even if you set your browser to block standard Web cookies.
On July 14, I described five Firefox privacy add-ons, one of which was Better Privacy, which makes it easy to allow only the Flash cookies you approve or to block all of them. To scrub your PC of all Flash cookies, try the free Flash Cookie Cleaner, although with this program, you must remove all such cookies rather than being able to save the ones you would like to keep around.
Keep your PC's camera and microphone off limits
The online spies have figured out how to use Adobe's Flash Player to eavesdrop on you by activating your PC's built-in camera and microphone. According to the German site The Local, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute contrived a man-in-the-middle attack that allowed them to activate a PC's camera and microphone remotely.
You can set the Flash Player to deny all attempts to access your system's camera and microphone or to ask for permission beforehand. Unfortunately, you can do so only via the Global Privacy Settings panel on Adobe's Flash Player Help site.
To prevent an individual site such as YouTube from accessing your camera and microphone, right-click any video's timeline bar and choose Settings. This opens the Adobe Flash Player Settings dialog. Click the Privacy icon in the bottom row (the one with an eyeball on a monitor) and choose the Deny and Remember options.
It won't be long before the online spies figure out even more insidious ways to get to know all about us--with or without our knowledge. When they do, we'll figure out how to close the blinds on them, hopefully before they're able to use what they know about us to our disadvantage.