I’m well aware of the value of site analytics. Most of my sites make extensive use of them. But at the same time I’m aware of a user’s absolute right to not be tracked, be it anonymous or not. When it comes to my personal information, I’m usually happy to let most sites drop in a statistical tracking cookie, but I almost always set the lifetime of those cookies to “session only”.
Basically, I’m happy to let someone know how I navigate their site, because that information is likely to result in improved usability. What I don’t like is disclosing how many times I visit a site over a period of time, and what my multi-visit user patterns are like.
With browsers like Firefox and now even Internet Explorer providing easy tools to manage cookie acceptance and lifetime, more and more users who don’t want to be tracked are limiting cookies. This is giving marketers a more challenging time and skewing their statistics. Poor babies.
Some marketers are fighting back. What’s not commonly known is that Adobe’s Flash Player lets sites store cookie-like information as well. Now Adobe hasn’t quite caught up with the concept of individual liberties, so the default configuration of the Flash Player is to allow local storage without any explicit user permission. Adobe pretty much has a monopoly when it come to this sort of thing, so there’s little incentive for them to change.
So now marketers who claim to seek to improve customer service have a method where they can gather data even if their customers have taken explicit steps to prevent it. News Flash: That is NOT good customer service! It’s really rather offensive customer abuse.
Some time in the past few months, TD Bank decided to join the ranks of companies who have elected to bypass their customer’s wishes. I recently connected to my online banking site, and got asked for permission to allocate local storage to an invisible bit of Flash. So I cranked open the page and found this link: https://easyweb46w.tdcanadatrust.com/dojo111/dojox/storage/Storage.swf?baseUrl=/dojo111/dojo/. At least its name reflects its purpose.
Anyone familiar with the big Canadian banks has become accustomed to dealing with these arrogant behemoths, protected from significant international competition by legislation, and reading from some version of a dictionary where the meaning of “service” is very different from the commonly accepted definition. Really the only surprising thing is that they haven’t found a way to charge me 25 cents per byte of information that they want to store on my computer.
But you don’t have to be subject to corporate whims. These things are configurable. Don’t go looking through your browser, plugins or program settings for the control panel, though. Follow this link to your Flash Player control panel. This looks like a screen shot of what a control panel might look like, but don’t be confused: it’s a live presentation of your current settings. Click on the second tab, “Global Storage Settings”. There’s a reasonably good explanation of the settings below the panel, but if you move the slider to the left until it reads “None”, then every site that tries to save data in flash will have to get your approval first. If you don’t want to be asked, set the “Never Ask Again” check box. Then go to the last tab, “Website Storage Settings” to take a look at which sites have left tracking codes on your computer. Delete all the ones you don’t trust.
Now you have control of your information again.