What came as a surprise to many, or may be not at all a surprise, the Wall Street Journal on Friday reported Google using code that bypasses the privacy settings of people using Safari browser on their iPhones and computers to track information of users who did not want such monitoring.
On being contacted about the objectionable code by WSJ, Google immediately disabled it. It is also pertinent to note that while before yesterday night one Google site informed Safari users that Safari’s privacy settings were sufficient and reliable, the language was removed last night.
Stanford research Jonathan Mayer first spotted the presence of the snoopy code in Google ads, and the presence of the privacy bypassing code was independently confirmed by Ashkan Soltani, a technical adviser to WSJ, who found that such ads in 22 out of the top 100 websites installed Google’s tracking code and that from 23 sites installed tracking code on an iPhone browser. Three other companies, Vibrant Media, WPP PLC’s Media Innovation Group LLC and Gannett Co’s PointRoll Inc. were found to use similar code to bypass user privacy settings in the Safari browser.
Characteristically, Google stated: “The Journal mischaracterizes what happened and why. We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. It’s important to stress that these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.”
While an Apple official reported that Apple was working to stop the bypassing of privacy settings of its browser, this happens at a time when already Google’s privacy practices are under severe criticism.
What cannot be bypassed by Google is that last year, as part of a settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the company pledged that it would never misrepresent its privacy practices to consumers, and agreed that it would pay $16000 per violation per day.
If the recent findings that show the Google code intentionally bypassed privacy settings of Safari, then the millions of users whose rights have been violated can erase Google from the internet if it is made to fines at the agreed rate.