If you thought blocking cookies was enough to stop sites from gathering information, watch out for local shared objects in the Flash player. This is a place the Flash player can use to store data, if you allow it to. As with cookies, the technique itself isn’t harmful, it all depends on what is done with it. And if it’s up to United Virtualities it will be used for the same purposes that make people block cookies, that is gather user information.
But there is a way to configure what the Flash player is allowed to do. With the Macromedia Flash Player Settings Manager you can control its privacy, security and storage settings. I changed all settings so nothing is allowed. And by using the FlashBlock extension all Flash movies are blocked until I decide I want to see one. The advantage of using Firefox.
Firefox, my browser of choice, does not show Flash content with the default installation, but you can easily download Flash support and it will show up. But do you want it to show up? For nearly all of the the sites I visit I don’t, because the Flash movies are only annoying.
So, until recently I didn’t install the Flash support which meant I regularly got a little toolbar notifying me I was missing some content. If I suspected it was something I really wanted to see I switched to Internet Explorer. By the way, the Firefox IE view extension makes switching very easy by adding a ‘View This Page in IE’ option to the right-click menu.
But I finally installed the Flash extension, because using IE became more and more frustrating, missing things like the Ctrl-click to open a link in a new tab and search-as-you-type. Not long after I installed Flash support, sites I thought I knew suddenly showed blinking ads and other distracting messages never visible before.
What I wanted was to get rid of the Flash garbage but still have the ability to view it if I wanted. So I did some searching and found FlashBlock, an extension that replaces all Flash content on a page with a icon to that will show the Flash content when clicked. Now I’m in charge again.