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by Ray DeCosta

Q. I recently heard about problems caused by "Flash cookies." What are they?

A. Cookies are generally a means of allowing websites to retain certain information about you in a small text file. Having a cookie from your online bank will usually allow you to sign into your account with less hassle. For example, my own bank insists on having a cookie set so it can determine that my computer is the one I normally use. If it's not there, it requires me to answer the usual questions and then emails me a one-time authorization code.

However, advertisers can use cookies to track your movements around the Internet: what sites you go to, what pages you look at, what you buy, etc. And you may not want this info "out there." Any modern browser can be set to delete some or all "usual" cookies automatically upon closing. But the newer Flash cookies are different. They are located in a hidden place in your computer and are generally unknown to most people.

You can go to the Adobe MacroMedia site to see which Flash cookies are presently stored on your computer. It will give you an idea what information is contained in your Flash cookies.

If what you see concerns you, you can use BetterPrivacy (an add-in for the Firefox browser) which can be set to automatically remove unwanted Flash cookies. You can read more about Flash cookies or download BetterPrivacy here.

Published: Courier 9/3/10 - Page 5C