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New Adobe Flash Player Locks Down the Cookie Jar

New Adobe Flash Player Locks Down the Cookie Jar

Adobe's latest version of Flash Player, 10.3, puts a focus on privacy by employing a new cookie-clearing system, an effort to head off some content providers' efforts to spawn cookies that result in annoying browser behavior for the end user. Flash Player 10.3 also streamlines the controls of the Flash Player privacy, security and storage settings within the local control panel of desktop operating systems.

By Richard Adhikari
05/13/11 11:53 AM PT

Adobe has released Flash Player 10.3 for the Windows, Linux;, Mac OS X and Android platforms.

This latest update offers better security and user privacy protection, makes it easier for end users to manage their Flash Player settings and provides new desktop video and audio capabilities for enterprises and developers.

It also has a new auto-update notification mechanism for the Mac OS X platform.

Privacy in Flash Player 10.3

Privacy is a the hot topic recently, what with Congress grilling Apple and Google about their location data practices. It's also a major issue with users of Adobe Flash Player because unscrupulous companies have sometimes used Flash cookies to spawn browser cookies.

Spawning browser cookies will relaunch a Web page even after the user shuts it down, and users often have to shut down the browser and open a new one. Sometimes they may even have to take their computers offline and shut them down as well.

Flash Player 10.3 lets users clear Flash cookies through the browser, Adobe said.

"The FTC [Federal Trade Commission] suggested in a report published last year that vendors include 'do not track' options in browsers and other online applications and tools," Charles King, principal at Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld. "Adobe was mentioned specifically in that report, so I expect that the inclusion of the ability to clear browser cookies is simply a reaction to that report."

Adobe worked with the FTC, the Center for Democracy and Technology and Carnegie Mellon University to make it easier for end users to delete Flash cookies.

"We've been aware for some time that companies can use Flash cookies as a proxy for cookies, and controls available to let users get rid of cookies weren't very good at handling Flash cookies," Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), told TechNewsWorld. "We petitioned Adobe a lot on this."

Using Browsers to Clear Flash Cookies

The CDT suggested Adobe incorporate the cookie-clearing mechanism into browsers, which it has done in Flash Player 10.3, Brookman said.

Adobe did this by working with the open source browser community to develop the ClearSiteData NPAPI. This lets users clear private data stored by browser plugins such as Flash Player.

"Clearing the data developers store for their applications in Flash Player local storage may affect the end user's experience with a website or application," Emmy Huang, group product manager for Adobe AIR and Flash Player, told TechNewsWorld. "To what degree will depend on the content for which the local storage is used."

Microsoft offers NPAPI-type functionality in IE8 and 9.

Future releases of the Google Chrome and Apple Safari browsers will have NPAPI functionality, Adobe said.

Improved Control Over Settings

Flash Player 10.3 also streamlines the controls of the Flash Player privacy, security and storage settings within the local control panel of desktop operating systems, Adobe said.

It now integrates control of local storage with the browser's privacy settings for Firefox 4, Internet Explorer 8 and higher, and Google Chrome 11. It will do the same thing for a future release of Apple Safari.

End users will be able to manage all Flash Player settings, including camera, microphone and Local Shared Objects (Adobe's name for cookies) by going to the Control Panel or the Systems Settings tabs in the desktop operating system. For example, in Windows, this native control panel will be found in the Programs setting in the control panel, Adobe said.

New Audio and Video Features

Media Measurement for Flash lets companies get real-time aggregated reports on how their video content is distributed, what the audience reach is and how much video is played.

On the audio side, Flash Player 10.3 offers acoustic echo cancellation, noise suppression, voice activity detection and automatic compensation for various microphone input levels. However, these features are only available for desktop operating systems.

Developers can create real-time online collaboration experiences with high-quality audio, telephony, in-game voice chat and group conferencing applications for the desktop, Adobe said.

Adobe and Apple

Flash Player 10.3 has an auto-update notification mechanism for Mac OS X. This will automatically check for new Flash Player updates weekly and notify the user, similar to the update notification capability Adobe provides in Microsoft Windows.

Will the auto update feature and the NPAPI possibly make Adobe Flash more palatable to Apple, or will Cupertino continue to stay away from Flash?

Not likely, Pund-IT's King opined.

"Steve Jobs' attitude towards Adobe and Flash makes Larry Ellison's treatment of HP seem almost cheery and charitable," he explained.


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