Most savvy Internet users are familiar with Web cookies (small text files used by websites to track information about a user) and know how to disable them using their browser’s privacy controls. However, there’s another type of tracking cookie that even the most knowledgeable Web surfers may not know about. It’s called a Local Shared Object, or a “Flash cookie,” and it’s a major privacy concern.  

This article explains what a Flash cookie is, how to disable and delete Flash cookies currently on your computer and how to restrict websites from using Flash cookies to track you in the future.

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What is a Flash cookie?

According to Adobe:

“Local shared objects, sometimes referred to as ‘Flash cookies,’ are data files that can be created on your computer by the sites you visit. Shared objects are most often used to enhance your Web-browsing experience. A website can write a cookie on your computer, and the next time you visit it will load that cookie and its information in a way that provides a more customized experience. For example, you may have asked a site to remember your login name. That information is stored in the cookie and retrieved on your next visit so that the website displays your name in the login field on the site.

A local shared object is exactly like a browser cookie, except that it can also store data more complex than simple text. Shared objects, by themselves, can’t do anything to or with the data on your computer. More importantly, shared objects cannot access or remember your e-mail address or other personal information unless you willingly provide such information.”

How to disable and delete Flash cookies?

Unlike regular Web cookies, which can be disabled via your browser preferences, Flash cookies can only be accessed through the Adobe Flash Player Settings Manager.

From the Flash Player Settings Manager, you can change the storage limit of individual websites by selecting the website from the list and moving the slider bar to the left or right. By default, the storage limit is 100KB.

If you want to delete stored data for an individual website, highlight the website and click Delete. To delete all the data at once, choose Delete All Sites.

How do you prevent further Flash cookie tracking?

Next, visit the  Global Storage Settings tab of the Adobe Flash Player Settings Manager. You’ll see a window like this:

From here, you can control how much storage space websites can use to keep information by adjusting the slider to the left or right. To prohibit websites from storing any information at all, deselect the box that says “Allow third-party Flash content to store data on your computer.” Be advised that if you uncheck this box, some websites that use Flash may not function correctly.

How do you delete Flash cookies from your hard drive?

If this is the first time you’ve adjusted your Flash Player storage settings, you probably already have flash cookie information sitting on your hard drive somewhere. Here is the file path for accessing the information for Windows-based operating systems and for Apple Macintosh operating systems:

Windows – C:\Documents and Settings\[username]\Application Data\Macromedia\Flash Player

Macintosh OSX – /Users/[username]/Library/Preferences/Macromedia/Flash Player

Once you have found the files, you can delete them as you would any other file. Simply right-click and select Delete, or drag them to your desktop trash can.

Internet marketers constantly come up with new ways to track user behavior online, presenting new reasons to be concerned for your personal privacy, but by knowing how to disable and delete flash cookies, you are preparing yourself against this assault.