Ashkan Soltani

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Ashkan Soltani
Ashkan Soltani (7250137444).jpg
Residence Washington, DC, United States
Alma mater
Occupation Chief Technologist, Federal Trade Commission; Privacy and security researcher

Ashkan Soltani was the Chief Technologist of the Federal Trade Commission.[1] He was previously an independent privacy and security researcher, based in Washington, DC.

Between 2010 and 2011, he worked for the US Federal Trade Commission as a staff technologist in the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, where he assisted with the investigations of Google and Facebook. He has also worked as the primary technical consultant to the Wall Street Journal's What They Know series investigating online privacy.

In 2011, he testified at two different hearings held by US Senate committees focused on privacy related matters. Julia Angwin, in her 2014 book Dragnet Nation, describes Soltani as 'the leading technical expert on ad-tracking technology'.[2] He was part of the team at The Washington Post that shared the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service with The Guardian US for their coverage of the disclosures about surveillance done by the US National Security Agency.[3][4][5][6]

Flash cookie research[edit]

Soltani's first high-profile research project was a 2009 study, supported by the National Science Foundation's Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Computing, documenting the use of zombie Flash cookies by several online advertising networks.[7] Soltani and his colleagues at Berkeley revealed that websites were recreating tracking cookies after consumers deleted them by storing the unique tracking identifiers in Flash cookies, which were not automatically deleted when consumers cleared their browser cookies.[8]

After the publication of Soltani's research, class action law firms filed suit against several advertising networks and websites. Quantcast, Clearspring and VideoEgg collectively agreed to pay a total of $3.4 million to settle the lawsuits.[9]

In November 2011, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it had settled its investigation into online advertising network ScanScout, one of the advertising networks named in Soltani's research study.[10] According to the FTC complaint, the company had deceptively claimed that consumers could opt out of receiving targeted ads by changing their computer’s web browser settings to block cookies.[11]

ETag tracking research[edit]

In 2011, Soltani and Berkeley law professor Chris Hoofnagle published a follow-up study, documenting the use of web browser cache ETags to store persistent identifiers.[12] As with the case of Flash cookies, the identifiers stored in the ETags persisted even after consumers deleted their browser cookies.[13] The ETag tracking issue caught the attention of several members of Congress, who wrote to the Federal Trade Commission in September 2011 and urged the agency to investigate the use of advanced tracking technologies as a potentially unfair or deceptive business practice.[14]

Several companies performing ETag based tracking that were identified by the research team were subsequently sued by class action lawyers. In January 2013, KISSmetrics, an online advertising network, settled its ETag related lawsuit for $500,000.[15]


  1. ^ "Federal Trade Commission Appoints Ashkan Soltani as Chief Technologist". Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  2. ^ Angwin, Julia (2014). Dragnet Nation. New York, NY: Times Books, Henry Holt & Company. p. 178. ISBN 978-0805098075. 
  3. ^ Barton Gellman; Craig Timberg & Steven Rich (5 October 2013). "Files show NSA targeted Tor encrypted network" (PDF). The Washington Post.  (Contributors: Ashkan Soltani and Julie Tate)
  4. ^ Barton Gellman & Ashkan Soltani (15 October 2013). "NSA collects millions of e-mail address books globally" (PDF). The Washington Post. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  5. ^ Barton Gellman & Ashkan Soltani (31 October 2013). "NSA taps Yahoo, Google links" (PDF). The Washington Post. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  6. ^ Barton Gellman & Ashkan Soltani (4 December 2013). "NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show" (PDF). The Washington Post. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  7. ^ Singel, Ryan (2009-08-10). "You Deleted Your Cookies? Think Again". Wired News. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  8. ^ Soltani, Ashkan; Canty, Shannon; Mayo, Quentin; Thomas, Lauren and Hoofnagle, Chris Jay, "Flash Cookies and Privacy" (August 10, 2009). Available at SSRN:
  9. ^ Davis, Wendy (2011-11-23). "Metacafe Promises Not To Use Flash Cookies For Tracking". MediaPost New. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  10. ^ Davis, Wendy (2011-11-08). "FTC Accuses Video Ad Network Of Using Flash Cookies For Tracking". MediaPost New. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  11. ^ In the Matter of ScanScout, Inc., a corporation; FTC File No. 102 3185,
  12. ^ Ayenson, Mika, Wambach, Dietrich James, Soltani, Ashkan, Good, Nathan and Hoofnagle, Chris Jay, Flash Cookies and Privacy II: Now with HTML5 and ETag Respawning (July 29, 2011). Available at SSRN:
  13. ^ Singel, Ryan (2011-07-29). "Researchers Expose Cunning Online Tracking Service That Can't Be Dodged". Wired News. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  14. ^ Lee, Timothy B. (2011-09-27). "Congressmen blast "supercookies" as privacy menace". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  15. ^ Davis, Wendy (2013-01-23). "KISSmetrics Finalizes Supercookies Settlement". MediaPost New. Retrieved 2013-01-18.