Have you ever wondered exactly what information websites might be secretly collecting about you through "flash cookies"? If so, you‘ve come to the right place. As an experienced cybersecurity professional, I‘m here to provide authoritative, friendly advice on identifying and clearing those pesky flash cookies from your computer.
What Are Flash Cookies and Why Should You Care?
When people talk about website cookies, they are usually referring to the regular cookies browsers use to store small amounts of data. But Adobe‘s Flash plugin introduced another sneaky type of cookie dubbed "flash cookies" or locally shared objects (LSOs).
Unlike regular cookies limited to 4KB of data, a single flash cookie can store up to 100KB of information about you! This allows sites using Flash to build incredibly detailed user profiles. A 2010 study by UC Berkeley found one Flash cookie storing as much as 64KB of tracking data!
This extensive storage capacity is part of why privacy advocates have singled out flash cookies as one of the worst offenders when it comes to cross-site tracking and online profiling. Flash cookies allow sites to recreate tracking ID‘s you‘ve already deleted and piece together your browsing history across visits. One side effect of all this tracking is that it slows down your browsing experience as well.
So how big of an issue are flash cookies? In a 2009 study by researchers at AT&T Labs, over 50% of websites using Flash stored flash cookies, with the average site storing over 5 flash cookies and some sites planting as many as 178 flash cookies in browsers!
While the sunsetting of Flash means flash cookies are less common today, they still pose privacy and security risks on any older sites still running Flash. Let‘s look at how to wipe Flash cookies from your computer so you can browse worry-free!
Step-by-Step Guide to Removing Flash Cookies
The most straightforward way to clear out existing flash cookies is through your Flash Player settings:
- Visit the Website Storage Settings panel on Adobe‘s website. This lets you view and manage flash cookies.
- Find the site whose flash cookies you want removed and click "Remove All" or "Delete All Sites" to fully clear flash cookies from your computer.
- For sites you want to keep using, reset their stored permissions under Global Privacy Settings so new flash cookies can‘t be installed.
You can also use various utilities and browser extensions to automatically detect and get rid of flash cookies:
|BetterPrivacy||Firefox extension to scan for and delete flash cookies|
|CCleaner||System cleaning utility that cleans out flash cookies|
|AdwCleaner||Malware removal tool that also wipes flash cookies|
For additional protection, make sure to clear your full browser cache and cookies which may contain linked tracking IDs originating from flash cookies.
Going Beyond Removing Flash Cookies
While clearing your existing flash cookies is a great first step, there are additional precautions you should take to guard against persistent Flash-based tracking:
- Uninstall Flash Player – With the end of support for Flash, it‘s best to remove it completely rather than keeping outdated vulnerable versions installed.
- Use an ad-blocker – Browser extensions like uBlock Origin can block Flash content from loading to prevent any flash cookies.
- Enable Do Not Track – This signals sites not to track you, but many third-party trackers ignore it.
- Leverage a VPN – A VPN like Surfshark routes your traffic through an encrypted tunnel and can block invasive ads and trackers.
- Utilize privacy tools – Extensions like Ghostery and Privacy Badger prevent trackers from storing cookies in the first place.
Flash ushered in an era of highly invasive tracking that still persists today through other means. But by taking control of your browser data and who has access to it, you can avoid being an unwitting victim of online profiling.
Hope this guide gives you the tools to take action and surf the web freely without worries about flash cookies! Let me know if you have any other browser privacy questions!