Specific Media Sued Over Flash Cookie Use

privacy

Online ad network Specific Media has been hit with a lawsuit for allegedly violating Web users' privacy by using Flash cookies for tracking purposes.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California, six Web users allege that Specific Media failed to provide adequate notice about its online data collection techniques, including Flash cookies. The lawsuit also alleges that Specific Media used Flash cookies -- which are stored in a separate location from HTML cookies -- to recreate HTML cookies that users had deleted so it could "obtain personal identifying information, monitor users, and to sell users' data."

The company's "privacy documents require college-level reading skills for comprehension and include substantial legalese, ambiguous and obfuscated language designed to confuse, disenfranchise, and mislead the users," the lawsuit asserts.

In addition, the use of Flash cookies to recreate deleted HTML cookies "unfairly wrests control from users," the lawsuit alleges.

Specific Media has not yet responded to Online Media Daily's request for comment.

Flash cookies were originally designed to remember users' preferences for Flash-based applications like online video players, but some companies also use such cookies to store the same type of information that is normally found on HTTP cookies. With this type of data, Flash cookies can be used to reconstruct HTTP cookies, even when consumers have deliberately deleted their HTTP cookies to avoid tracking. Because Flash cookies are stored in a different place from HTTP cookies, users who delete the latter don't also shed the former. People can trash Flash cookies via Adobe's online controls, but many users don't appear to be aware of the cookies.

The complaint refers extensively to a report about Flash cookies published last year by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and other schools. That paper outlined how Flash can be used to circumvent consumers' settings.

After the report was published, some Federal Trade Commission officials said they were concerned about the use of Flash for tracking purposes.

The Web users argue that Specific Media's alleged tracking techniques violate federal and state wiretap laws. They are seeking a class-action lawsuit.

This lawsuit marks the third time this summer that companies have been sued over Flash cookies. Defendants named in the prior two lawsuits include Quantcast, Clearspring, Walt Disney and NBC Universal.

All of the Flash-cookie suits were filed by lawyers David Parisi and Joseph Malley, both of whom are among the attorneys suing defunct behavioral targeting company NebuAd for allegedly violating users' privacy.

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5 comments about "Specific Media Sued Over Flash Cookie Use ".
  1. Paul Benjou from The Center for Media Management Strategies , August 26, 2010 at 9:52 a.m.

    If true ....Thank you, Specific Media, for poisoning the well even more than it has already been tainted.

    Paul Benjou

    Ad Industry Blog: www.MyOpenKimono.com

  2. Michael Logan from simpli.fi , August 26, 2010 at 10 a.m.

    Assuming for a moment that Specific Media is innocent of the allegations until proven guilty, this case is vastly different than the similar complaints lodged against NBCU and Disney. Since Disney and NBCU already own their inventory and content and therefore have much greater access, and perfectly legal and compliant, to user data, much of which is user expressed and voluntary, they wouldn't need to and wouldn't benefit from fraudulently manipulating Flash cookies. Specific Media, which as a network that does not own their own content and sites, would greatly benefit by doing what has been alleged.
    The fact that the privacy policy of Specific Media requires nearly a legal degree to understand and Disney and NBCU's policies are simple and clearly defined speaks volumes about the way each company approaches user privacy concerns.

  3. Chris Nielsen from Domain Incubation , August 26, 2010 at 3:48 p.m.

    Man, as an Internet consultant I am shocked that I just found 333 .sol files under folders in "Documents and Settings" that Flash uses on my computer. I just deleted ALL of them.

    Do a search for "delete Flash cookies" and you will find a lot of information about this.

    Hmmm, was the Internet ever really www.Taintless.com? :-)

  4. Jonah Wasserman from Wasserman Media , August 30, 2010 at 9:40 a.m.

    Specific Media is probably the biggest crooks in the Media Industry Today, they are like a digital mob headed up by the Vanderhook brothers... Here is just some of the things they have done to sully the industry and profiteer off of the backs of their customers and the general public (10's of millions of people)

    Their "Start" -- they often boast of inventing the pop-up ad -- which since just about everyone hates, not sure why they would want to boast about it, but either way, they certainly didnt invent the pop-up ad, however they in typical criminally minded fashion certainly "enhanced it" by inventing a popup ad that would literally SHAKE on your screen, not just for the objective of really getting your attention but to make it much harder to actually close, however that wasnt enough for these great nice guys, so they decided to start launching pop-ups that would open slightly off the corner of your screen, basically making them near impossible to close out, unless you rebooted your computer or did ALT-CONTROL-DELETE on your browser, etc..... moreover their crappy code caused MILLIONS of computers to crash and they did nothing but laugh their way to the bank....

    Let's fast forward a few years and talk about how they commited corporate espionage by having their sales people who used to work at Advertising.com -- ILLEGALLY call into Advertising.com daily operations and sales meetings via a conference call dial in and take all of the information and use it to their advantage....

    And let's move forward in time to one of the biggest Privacy Violations you have never heard about.... Bascially what the "genuis's" at Specific decided to do was partner with one of the largest Automotive companies in the world, one who recently went through a bankruptcy, ahem, ahem, and they would ILLEGALLY use cookie information from third party automotive websites that the automotive company would make media buys from, then find those site's visitors elsewhere and re-target them... Which may sound like not a bad thing, however they never informed the endemic automotive publishers what they were doing and never disclosed it to the consumer, which at the least the endemic automotive sites had an obligation to do... So they really screwed the pooch on that one....

    And now this new instance of fraud, them using Flash Cookies... well it should come as no suprise since it came from those clever boys, the Vanderhooks, i am sure their parents are proud......

    It is time the industry cleans itself out, Specific Media has systemically ripped off their Customers, - Advertisers, Publishers and most importantly the public, by their own bragging more than 100 million people have been systemically, over and over again ripped off by Specific Media.....

  5. Glenn Schutz from BPA Worldwide , September 7, 2010 at 2:36 p.m.

    We (BPA) commissioned Eric Peterson for a whitepaper on the use--and potential negatives--of the use of Flash cookies. Here's the link if you're interested:
    http://www.bpaww.com/Bpaww_com/HTML/flashcookieswp/index.htm

    Interesting (but not really surprising) to see that the issue has already been pushed to this point.

    -Glenn Schutz