Blog Post

Adobe To Simplify Flash Player’s Privacy Controls

Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE) is moving to address concerns, raised by the Federal Trade Commission and privacy advocates, about potential privacy loopholes in its popular Flash Player program. Flash Product Manager Emmy Huang says in a blog post that the company will dramatically simplify how users access privacy settings for the video-watching program. Currently, it can be cumbersome to control Flash’s privacy settings, because users need to first right-click on a piece of Flash content and select a “Global Settings” option. They are then taken to a control panel on the Adobe website that isn’t particularly easy to use.

That will all change soon; Adobe says it will implement two fixes to make simplify the privacy settings controls:

»  First, three of the four major browser companies-Mozilla, Google (NSDQ: GOOG), and Apple-are working together to create a standard for controlling user information held by browser plug-ins like Flash. That will allow users working in those browsers to control Flash privacy settings from their browser, without having to navigate to the Adobe website. The new settings should be available “in the coming weeks” for Chrome, according to Huang.

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) appears to be absent from the consortium but could join later. The company has been boasting that the forthcoming version of Internet Explorer, IE9, will have superior privacy controls, so it would be odd if it were the only big-league browser that did not participate.

»  Second, Adobe is working on a system that will allow users to manipulate Flash controls from within their computer’s control panel. This will be a control panel similar to the ones that govern how display or keyboard settings work. (A screenshot of this Adobe project is embedded below.) Adobe says this will be ready for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems in the first half of this year.

Why the controversy? Flash creates local storage objects (sometimes called “Flash cookies,” a term Adobe doesn’t care for), which are small files that let a user store information on their own computer. That allows the computer to remember where you were last in a photo or productivity app, or to know what volume settings you prefer on YouTube or Hulu. It also can be used to track user behavior for unauthorized purposes, like targeting ads, a practice that has been widely criticized by various parties, including Adobe, and has been the focus of some class action lawsuits.

In a press conference last year about online privacy, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz noted there was “an Adobe Flash problem that needs to be solved,” but said the FTC was already in conversations with the company about how to do so.