FTC Is Asked to Crack Down on ‘Supercookies’ as Data Privacy Violation

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The bastard stepchild of online behavioral advertising – the supercookie – is in the hot seat.

Two members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the FTC on September 27 calling on the commission to look into the usage and impact of supercookies on consumers. Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.), co-chairmen of the bipartisan privacy caucus in the House, sent the letter in response to an August 18 Wall Street Journal article. The article reported on use of supercookies by major online presences like MSN.com and Hulu.com. Rep. Barton raised concerns that the existence of supercookies “eats away at consumer choice and privacy.”

Like regular cookies, supercookies (aka “Flash cookies” and “zombie cookies”) are legal means to track a user’s online activity. But there are several differences that cause supercookies to pique the concerns of data privacy advocates. Unlike regular cookies, supercookies circumvent a user’s privacy settings and are hard to detect and remove. They are located in different files on the computer, like the Flash plug-in (hence the term “Flash cookies”), and cannot be found by browsers’ cookie detectors. Moreover – and this is one of the big issues for data privacy people – supercookies can regenerate (“respawn”) user profiles after regular cookies are deleted.

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