Apple says Google takes bite out of Safari browser privacy

Tuesday, 21 February 2012 15:08
Googlesign031411_optBY JASON KIM

Thanks to a study published by Stanford, Google is again embroiled in a dispute regarding their privacy policies and alleged customer tracking through their popular online products and services. Google is one of three advertising companies accused of bypassing privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser.

The study published by Stanford graduate student, Jonathan Mayer, stated that, “Google had unilaterally decided that privacy permissions for its products superseded the privacy restrictions those users had enacted - implicitly or explicitly - by choosing to use Safari."

Mayer’s study indicated that, “The inherent problem for Google was that its social and ad networks run on different domains from its main one,," which “prevents it from allowing a user of the Google+ social network to give a virtual thumbs up (or "+1") to an ad on another site, a step that makes such ads more valuable”.

Mayer said, “Google needed to bypass this third party function”. And to do so, the user of Safari ultimately had to “give up some privacy in exchange” for Google to keep their ad network’s integrity with its advertisers and preventing dilution of the advertising network, which Google covets.

Mayer thinks that Google's action was a “pretty big 'oops' and it raises pretty big questions.”

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Google is "tracking the Web-browsing habits of people who intended for that kind of monitoring to be blocked." Unsurprisingly, the story has set off a string of criticism from Internet privacy advocates and legal proponents.

Google spokeswoman Rachel Whetstone said, “The code was limited to users who are signed into Google on Safari, have not blocked behavioral advertising, and have opted to use the Google social network on third-party sites”.

UPI reports that three U.S. congressmen have been the most vocal, urging the Federal Trade Commission to press hard on Google’s actions, after the Mountain View, Cali. company admitted to tracking millions of people’s iPhone and Mac web activities.

Representatives Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Joe Barton (R-Tex.), and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), stated that “Google’s behavior ‘constitutes a violation’ of a privacy settlement Google Inc. and the commission worked out [in 2011]."  Violation of the 2011 terms of agreement could cost Google $16,000 per violation, per day.

"Google's practices could have a wide-sweeping impact because Safari is a major Web browser used by millions of Americans," Markey and Barton wrote in a letter to the FTC.

The Federal Trade Commission said that it is “aware of the situation”. At least two consumer groups also asked the FTC to investigate Google's behavior.

Representatives at Google added, "We are taking immediate steps to address [the government’s] concerns.”