Adobe Flash: It’s what makes YouTube videos, online games, interactive media and plenty of other stuff on the Internet work. Unfortunately, it’s also a tool that Web developers can use to track your activities even if you take other steps to protect your privacy while browsing, like disabling cookies. But with the help of certain tools — namely, BetterPrivacy and Flashblock — making Flash more private is easy.
What’s Wrong With Flash?
The privacy issues with Flash have been well known since a 2009 report drew attention to the way in which websites can use Flash to store cookies. In most Web browsers, deleting other types of cookies and clearing the browsing history won’t remove Flash-based cookies.
There are other problems with Flash, too. It’s notoriously bad when it comes to security, which means hackers often exploit vulnerabilities in Flash code to steal data or wreak other assorted forms of havoc. It also used to be possible for third parties to use Flash to turn on a user’s webcam and microphone without the user’s knowledge, an issue Adobe remedied only in recent years.
In the long run, if companies like Google have their way, Flash will disappear entirely. Modern, HTML5-based websites can implement interactive and media-rich features without using Flash, and few people outside of Adobe have a real interest in keeping Flash around.
But, for better or for worse, Flash is still pretty widespread on the Web today. To help protect against the privacy and security vulnerabilities it raises, you can take advantage of two main tools:
- The BetterPrivacy extension for Firefox, which bills itself as a “super-cookie safeguard.” The extension cleans up Flash-based cookies and other bits of information that can be used to track your online activities. Technically, you could do the same thing manually after each browsing session by using the tools provided along with Flash, but Better Privacy automates the process for you. It also lets you select certain types of information to protect from purging, in case you need to keep Flash content from a particular site or app on your system for whatever reason.
- Flashblock, another Firefox extension. Rather than streamlining the process of cleaning up the messes that Flash leaves behind after you use it, Flashblock simply prevents Flash content from loading altogether. If you want to load a particular Flash app, you can click a button to enable it.
Both of these extensions require you to use Firefox or a browser based on it, like Pale Moon. If you’re serious about privacy, though, there’s a good chance you’re already running one of these.