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Blocking Flash Cookies (and Improved Security with Gnash)

A couple of months ago, I wrote about some simple tests that showed the lack of privacy in Chrome’s Incognito mode, and Firefox’s Private Browsing. Both browsers boast a privacy setting that will not save any of your surfing activity on your computer. That is, any activity that doesn’t produce a flash cookie. Most flash websites that I’ve been to save cookies on your computer, regardless of the browser’s privacy options.

A recent episode of FLOSS featured Rob Savoye talking about his Open Source port of Flash, Gnash. On Rob’s Blog, I found an excellent post on how to block Flash cookies on your computer. Here are the steps to block Flash cookies:

1. Browse to Adobe Flash Player Settings Manager.
2. Click on “Global Storage Settings Panel” in the left navigation menu.
3. Uncheck “Allow Third Party Flash Content to store data on your computer”.

According to Rob’s post, you shouldn’t mess with the other Privacy options in here.

An interesting side note to this blog is Gnash itself. Gnash is a completely Open Source and free project aimed at being a replacement for Adobe’s proprietary Flash player. Gnash can run stand alone Flash files, as well as be a browser plugin. Perhaps the most attractive reason to maybe switch to Gnash is that Gnash rarely suffers from the same security holes as Adobe’s Flash, as these holes tend to be due to the implementation of Flash, and not the format, according to Rob. Gnash works on almost all platforms, including Windows, Mac, and Linux, as well as plenty of other more obscure architectures. Gnash also has a significantly larger performance improvement over Adobe’s Flash in terms of CPU processing. There even exists a port of Gnash for Android!

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Internet Communities Making Revolutionary Changes

I’ve recently discovered an interesting phenomenon creeping up on then net. Well, political grassroots movements are not new to the internet at all. Every organization out there has a website, some using technology with varying levels of effectiveness. Politicians are using the net to communicate their platforms. Online communities have been around for a long time, from the early days of Usenet, to web bulletin boards, and now Web 2.0 sites like Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter. One impressive grassroots Youtube movement in particular has caught my eye as a movement that has stood out with a rather amazing and recent success story.

A couple of months ago, I watched an interesting vlog on Youtube from AtheneWins. As an ex-WoW player, I’ve watched Athene videos before, particularly for their humor. The rather large following that Athene videos have created apparently lead to a spin-off by the amateur film makers of the AtheneWins videos, I Power. I Power’s focus was self-improvement, and, more to the point of this article, politics. I Power has taken a particular stance on supporting Net Neutrality in Europe.

I had known about Net Neutrality before, but this was the first that I heard about it being considered in European Parliament. As a US citizen, I suddenly became increasingly interested in Net Neutrality. If laws could be passed in Europe that allow ISP’s or governments to restrict what their users can view on the internet, why couldn’t it happen in the US?

Inspiration happened when I Power posted an “emergency” video on on Youtube that encouraged Europeans to contact their Parliament, and support Net Neutrality. The video got 40,000 hits. As a skeptical, somewhat apathetic American, I had to wonder just how this would affect the European Parliament’s decision on whether or not to allow ISP’s to control the content of the internet as it’s delivered to their customers.

A few days later, I Power posted this follow up video announcing a victory in protecting Net Neutrality. Apparently, European Parliament members received so many letters, emails, and phone calls, that they realized just how important Net Neutrality is to the internet as we know it today, and refused to allow ISP’s the ability to control what content their users could view. I couldn’t believe it!

This is a very real example of how online communities are making their voices heard, and making a difference. You always hear about how the “world is being changed by technology”, and the “internet is a huge part of change”. From politicians using Youtube and Twitter to spread their campaign message, to the leaked Iran protests videos (which Iran’s government has tried to suppress by blocking direct access to Youtube), these are more than just buzz words. The success of I Power stands out as one of the most impressive examples of how every day people can use technology to make their voices heard, and when voices are heard by politicians (in democratic countries), change can become a reality.