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New Cookie Technologies: Harder to See & Remove, Widely Used to Track You

Monday, October 05, 2009

By Seth Schoen
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Cookies are still a privacy problem for web users, many years after privacy advocates first raised concerns about their use to track web browsing. Today, cookies are one of the main mechanisms that advertising companies like Google use to track and profile users across sites and over time -- often building up a single gigantic profile for years and years. Many EFF members respond to this threat by using their browsers' cookie management features to limit which cookies they'll accept or how long they'll be retained.

But it turns out that the cookie situation is quite a bit trickier today, and sites that want to track users have new technical options that are hard for users to respond to. The traditional "cookie" is an HTTP cookie, invented by Lou Montulli and John Giannandrea at Netscape in 1994. But today many browsers implement a range of things with the same kind of cookie-like tracking behavior -- mechanisms that are far less familiar, harder to notice, and often harder to control.

A great overview of the wide range of cookie technologies confronting us today is Cleaning Up After Cookies, an article published last year by Katherine McKinley at iSEC Partners. McKinley describes five cookie-like tracking methods that go beyond traditional HTTP cookies, and explains how browsers often fail to let users exercise meaningful control over these varieties of tracking.

The most prominent of these tracking methods is the so-called "Flash cookie", a kind of cookie maintained by the Adobe Flash plug-in on behalf of Flash applications embedded in web pages.1 These cookie files are stored outside of the browser's control. Web browsers do not directly allow users to view or delete the cookies stored by a Flash application, users are not notified when such cookies are set, and these cookies never expire. Flash cookies can track users in all the ways traditionally HTTP cookies do, and they can be stored or retrieved whenever a user accesses a page containing a Flash application. Some of the problems are highlighted by Rob Savoye, the developer of Gnash, an open source Flash implementation....(Remainder.)


Blackwater: CIA Assassins?

By Jeremy Scahill
The Nation

In April 2002, the CIA paid Blackwater more than $5 million to deploy a small team of men inside Afghanistan during the early stages of US operations in the country. A month later, Erik Prince, the company's owner and a former Navy SEAL, flew to Afghanistan as part of the original twenty-man Blackwater contingent. Blackwater worked for the CIA at its station in Kabul as well as in Shkin, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where they operated out of a mud fortress known as the Alamo. It was the beginning of a long relationship between Blackwater, Prince and the CIA.

Now the New York Times is reporting that in 2004 the CIA hired Blackwater "as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda." According to the Times, "it is unclear whether the CIA had planned to use the contractors to capture or kill Qaeda operatives, or just to help with training and surveillance."

The Times reports that "the CIA did not have a formal contract with Blackwater for this program but instead had individual agreements with top company officials, including the founder, Erik D. Prince, a politically connected former member of the Navy Seals and the heir to a family fortune." A retired intelligence officer "intimately familiar with the assassination program" told the Washington Post, "Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong." The Post reported that Blackwater "was given operational responsibility for targeting terrorist commanders and was awarded millions of dollars for training and weaponry, but the program was canceled before any missions were conducted."...(Remainder.)


Greek Socialists Win in a Landslide

By Rachel Donadio and Anthee Carassava

The New York Times
Photo:  Simela Pantzarzi (European Pressphoto Agency)

ATHENS — Socialists won national elections in Greece on Sunday, trouncing a center-right government crippled by corruption scandals and a growing economic crisis.

With 88 percent of Greece’s 10 million votes counted, according to The Associated Press, the Socialist Pasok Party was leading with 44 percent of the vote to 34 percent for the center-right New Democracy Party, a margin expected to give the Socialists their largest victory ever and a comfortable majority in Parliament.

“Today we set off together to build the Greece we want and need. We have no time to waste,” the Socialist leader, George Papandreou, said in his victory speech. “We want it, we can do it, we will succeed.”

“Nothing will be easy,” he added. “But I will always be honest and upfront with the Greeks.”

In conceding defeat, Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis said he had failed to persuade Greeks to accept the two years of austerity measures he had called for to steer the country out of its economic crisis. “The voters did not approve of this policy. It was their choice, and I respect it,” he said.

Mr. Karamanlis also stepped down as leader of the New Democracy Party, which suffered its worst performance since the restoration of Greek democracy in 1974 after years of military dictatorship. He said he would call a party congress to elect a new leader within a month....(Remainder.)


Democrats Target Federal Law Banning Gay Marriage

By Bob Hotakainen
The Miami Herald

 WASHINGTON --  As one of 18,000 legally wed same-sex couples in California, Brad Levenson and Tony Sears file state income taxes as a married couple.

But they file their federal taxes as single individuals, paying hundreds of dollars more each year. That's because a law called the Defense of Marriage Act bars federal agencies from recognizing gay marriages.

Levenson, a 49-year-old federal public defender in Los Angeles, says that's not fair because he did not choose to be gay.

"I was born the way I am and I don't wish to be discriminated based on some genetic infusion at birth," he said.

Backers of gay rights are pushing to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA. They're buoyed by a growing acceptance of same-sex marriage - six states have now made it legal - and changed political realities in Washington: For the first time since DOMA passed in 1996, Democrats are in charge of both the White House and Congress.

"I do think it's a matter of time and I do think the time has come," said Darrick Lawson, 42, a chiropractor from Sacramento, Calif., who's ready to marry his male partner after they got engaged atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris. "You know, anything that happens progressively happens under the control of the Democratic Party. And that's what we have right now."...(Remainder.)


Health Industry Giving More to Congress than Thought

By Daniel Tencer
The Raw Story

A joint study by two political watchdog groups has found that Sen. Max Baucus -- the Montana Democrat who authored the principal health care reform bill being debated in the Senate -- was a major recipient of "contribution clusters" from lobbyists linked to health care groups.

The study, from the Center for Responsive Politics and the Sunlight Foundation, says members of Congress working on health care reform are receiving more money from the health industry than people realize.

This is because private lobbyists are donating to politicians who have already received donations from the groups those lobbyists represent, a practice the watchdogs describe as "contribution clusters."

The "never-before-seen" numbers, as the Sunlight Foundation describes them, show that Baucus collected contributions from 37 outside lobbyists representing PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry’s chief trade association, and 36 lobbyists who listed biotech firm Amgen as their client.

In all, 11 major health and insurance firms had their contributions to Baucus boosted through extra donations from 10 or more of their outside lobbyists....(Remainder.)


Insurance We Can Believe In

Why are Democrats being so timid in defending the public option?

By E.J. Dionne Jr.
The New Republic

WASHINGTON--The strangest aspect of the debate over a public option for health coverage is that the centrists who oppose it should actually love it.

It doesn't involve a government takeover of the health care system. The idea is that only consumers who wanted to enroll in a government-run health plan would do so. Anyone who preferred private insurance could get it.

The public option also uses government exactly as advocates of market economics say it should be deployed: Not as a controlling entity but as a nudge toward greater competition. Fans of the market rightly oppose monopolies. But in many places, a small number of insurance companies--sometimes only one--dominate the market. The public option is a monopoly-buster.

Centrists tell us they want to hold down spending and fight deficits. Strong versions of the public option, as the Congressional Budget Office showed in its scoring of Sen. Jay Rockefeller's proposal, cut the costs of insuring everyone.

Unfortunately, the debate over the public option has rarely concentrated on the substance of the idea. Instead, it has been almost entirely ideological.

Because opponents know from polling that the public wants the chance to choose a government plan, they move the discourse to abstract and often demagogic ground. The most revealing "argument" during the Senate Finance Committee's public option debate on Tuesday came from Sen. Chuck Grassley....(Remainder.)


Harkin: GOP Will Get No Say in Senate Health Bill Merger

By Stephen C. Webster
The Raw Story

A prominent Democratic Senator said Thursday that the Republican Party will get no say when the U.S. Senate merges two key health reform bills.

To Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), that means two things: A health bill will pass before Christmas and it will include a public health insurance option that Americans can buy into.

"We will have a bill on the president’s desk before Christmas, a health-reform bill," he said during a conference call, according to The Des Moines Register. "It will have a lot of good stuff in it. It will have a lot of prevention and wellness programs in there that I’ve been fighting for. And it will have a public option."

"Exactly how that public option will look … well, that remains to be seen," he continued, reported the Iowa Independent. "But it will have a public option."

The Hill added: "It is unclear whether [Democratic Senator Max] Baucus supports Harkin's stated refusal to invite Republicans to the merging table, an effort that likely will not take place for at least another two weeks. However, the mere suggestion of the party's exclusion is sure to anger the Senate's most vocal Republicans, who have recently ramped up their criticism of the Democrats' healthcare reform strategy."...(Remainder.)


Palin Presidential Run Would be ‘Catastrophic,’ ex-McCain Campaign Chief Says

By John Byrne
The Raw Story


The former campaign manager for the failed presidential bid of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told a crowd Friday that a presidential campaign of ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would be "catastrophic."

"I think that she has talents, but my honest view is that she would not be a winning candidate for the Republican candidate in 2012, and in fact, were she to be the nominee, we would have a catastrophic election result," GOP operative Steve Schmidt said.

"In the year since the election has ended, she has done nothing to expand her appeal beyond the base," he added. "Th[e] independent vote is going to be up for grabs in 2012. That middle of the electorate is going to be determinative of the outcome of the elections. I just don't see that if you look at the things she has done over the year... that she is going to expand that base in the middle."

The little noted remarks were posted on The Atlantic magazine's live blog for their conference, "First Draft of History" and caught by Eric Kleefield. Fuller remarks were posted by The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder....(Remainder.)


The Rabbit Ragu Democrats

By Frank Rich
The New York Times
Illustration:  Barry Blitt

IN the annals of American excess, there often arrives a moment when those with too much money, too much clout and too much hubris just can’t stop themselves from tempting the fates. They throw an over-the-top party in public, or parade their wealth and power before the press, and the next thing you know their world, and sometimes ours, has crashed.

In the go-go Reagan 1980s, the junk bond king Michael Milken bedazzled investors with lavish Predators’ Balls in Beverly Hills. Sure enough, he and Wall Street would end the decade in ruin. Back East, the financier Saul Steinberg celebrated his 50th birthday in 1989 with a $1 million party in the Hamptons. “Honey, if this moment were a stock, I’d short it,” he said when toasting his wife. He would soon suffer a stroke and see his company go bankrupt.

Steinberg sold his vast New York apartment to the private equity titan Stephen Schwarzman. In February 2007, Schwarzman marked his 60th birthday with a highly visible multimillion-dollar bacchanal in the Park Avenue Armory. Though Schwarzman hasn’t suffered much since — he is tied for 50th on the new Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans — his bash presaged the bust to come. He became, as James Stewart wrote in The New Yorker, “the designated villain of an era on Wall Street — an era of rapacious capitalists and heedless self-indulgence.”...(Remainder.)


James Carville: Glenn Beck is Nuts and a Blatant Hypocrite


Virulent Homophobe Behind Palin Memoir

By Neal Broverman

Sarah Palin's soon-to-be-released memoir was mostly written by Lynn Vincent, a woman blogger Andrew Sullivan calls a "fanatical homophobe."

In his blog on, Sullivan pulls quotes from pieces Vincent wrote for Christian publications that declared gay people have trampled on the constitutional rights of free speech by pushing for marriage equality. Vincent also apparently believes that in years past people routinely "brushed off fleeting thoughts of homosexual behavior," but gay activists have encouraged people to follow those thoughts with "exploration and action."

The outspoken gay blogger and pundit also takes umbrage with Jonathan Burnham, who does marketing for HarperCollins, the publisher of Palin's book, expected in spring 2010. Sullivan writes, "Jonathan Burnham -- wait for it -- is an openly gay man... As gay people prepare to march for their civil rights, Burnham, one of the more powerful gay men in New York, is preparing to capitalize on their avowed enemies. It's just money, after all."...(Original.)


Christianist Hate Preacher, Benny Hinn, Refused Entry to UK

Christian evangelist Benny Hinn, from Texas, has been refused entry to Britain after falling foul of new rules drawn up to combat hate crimes and extremism.

By Laura Donnelly
Telegraph UK
Photo: AP

Thousands who travelled to see Mr Hinn perform at a London rally have been were left disappointed after officials at Stansted airport would not let him in the country.

Border Agency officials turned back Mr Hinn, who landed by private jet, because he had failed to bring a valid sponsorship certificate from his church, required under rules introduced last November.

The Pentecostal preacher, who was due to perform at a three day rally in a Docklands exhibition centre this weekend, flew on to Paris, and attempted – and failed – to regain entry to Britain via Luton.

Thousands of evangelical Christians who had booked long weekend breaks to see the mission at the ExCeL centre were left waiting for Mr Hinn to appear at the free preaching event, not knowing why he failed to appear. Instead another pastor took his place.

His "fire conference and miracle service" was scheduled to last three days, finishing on Saturday night.

Among the "miracles" the Texan preacher performs is one in which he instructs participants to "let the bodies hit the floor". Videos of the services show the devout falling down backwards, "slain in spirit".

Mr Hinn has previously visited Britain without problems, but since November, under Home Office rules intended to combat extremism, all religious workers must obtain a valid certificate of sponsorship before they arrive in the UK....(Remainder.)



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