Major websites getting trickier and sneakier: Introducing the SuperCookie

Anyone who has been on the Web for any length of time will know what the term cookie means but for those of you not familiar with the term here is an short explanation courtesy of Wikipedia:

A cookie, also known as an HTTP cookie, web cookie, or browser cookie, is used for an origin website to send state information to a user’s browser and for the browser to return the state information to the origin site. The state information can be used for authentication, identification of a user session, user’s preferences, shopping cart contents, or anything else that can be accomplished through storing text data.

In other words it is a simple method for websites to be able to remember who you are and where you’ve been; and for the longest time they have been really simple text files that were for the most part fairly benign.

That is about to change if this news from Julia Angwin at the Wall Street Journal is any indication. It seems that major sites like Hulu and MSN are among the first to be using what is termed as a Supercookie and it is a lot more invasive that its predecessor. Also these new supercookies aren’t being stored in the same places on your machine that the older cookie files are kept which makes finding them a lot harder.

The powerful new — and legal — techniques can track people’s online activities without being detected by users, which makes it different from the more easily detectable average cookies, the Journal article said.

The files Hulu and MSN installed are also capable of re-creating users’ profiles after people deleted regular cookies.

MSN and Hulu said the tracking was inadvertent, and both companies promised to investigate.

via Washington Post

There are those that are calling these new cookies the next big privacy battle on the web.