A number of the nation's biggest media sites were hit with a lawsuit last week, claiming that they are violating federal eavesdropping and hacking laws by using "zombie cookies."
The technology, created by Quantcast, allows sites to use Adobe's Flash player to reproduce tracking files, even after a user has deleted them, according to ZDNet . The class action suit names ABC, ESPN, Hulu, MTV, MySpace and NBC as defendants, as well as Quantcast.
The lawsuit calls Internet users "fish in a fishbowl," completely exposed to Web sites' all-encompassing and wholesale collection of data, which could then be bought and sold.
"Defendants have used those cookies and other surreptitious datacollection methods to secretly intercept and access computer users' personal data and web browsing habits and have transmitted this information to Defendants for their own commercial benefit," the suit states.
And, according to the suit, this is a common practice.
"We found that top 100 websites are using Flash cookies to 'respawn,' or recreate deleted HTTP cookies. This means that privacy-sensitive consumers who 'toss' their HTTP cookies to prevent tracking or remain anonymous are still being uniquely identified online by advertising companies. Few websites disclose their use of Flash in privacy policies," the lawsuit states, citing a Social Science Network Research paper .
The lawsuit goes on to outline the Web sites' privacy practices, but the plaintiffs claim those documents are too vague and require college level reading skills to comprehend, leaving the average user unaware of the "zombie cookies."
"Defendants' privacy documents provide a false privacy protection by implying some level of protection for the user. Defendants' privacy documents intentionally are sufficiently vague so as to refrain from fully disclosing information to its users about what information is collected by the website, its associated entities, how the information is used and the purposes for the collection and use of this information; negating that its users are provided informed and meaningful online consent to these practices," the suit states.
The defendants claim these cookies depleted their computers' memory, caused unwanted CPU activity and disk usage and caused instability issues.
The suit was filed July 23 in the U.S. District Court's Central District of California.
Photo by walknboston on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.