Hard on the heels of reports that Google has been skirting privacy settings in Safari to track the browsing habits of iPhone users, Microsoft has said that Google is doing the same with Internet Explorer. To quote Microsoft’s Dean Hachamovitch, Corporate Vice President of Internet Explorer, “Google is employing similar methods (to what it employed with Safari) to get around the default privacy protections in IE and track IE users with cookies. …We’ve also contacted Google and asked them to commit to honoring P3P privacy settings for users of all browsers”. In his blog post Hachamovitch went on to add, “IE blocks third-party cookies unless the site presents a P3P Compact Policy Statement indicating how the site will use the cookie and that the site’s use does not include tracking the user. Google’s P3P policy causes Internet Explorer to accept Google’s cookies even though the policy does not state Google’s intent….
Microsoft has, in the meantime, offered a solution of its own that entails upgrading to Internet Explorer 9 if you haven’t already, and installing a Tracking Protection List that will completely block any further tracking attempts.
Google has responded stating that Microsoft omitted important information from its blog post and that Microsoft’s use of a ‘self-declaration’ protocol, dating from 2002, requires websites to represent their privacy practices in machine-readable form. The Google statement goes on to say, “It is well known – including by Microsoft – that it is impractical to comply with Microsoft’s request while providing modern web functionality. We have been open about our approach, as have many other websites.
“Today the Microsoft policy is widely non-operational. A 2010 research report indicated that over 11,000 websites were not issuing valid P3P policies as requested by Microsoft.”
In a further development, lawmakers from the U.S. House of Representatives have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate, in the aftermath of reports of privacy violations of Safari users, whether Google violated a consent agreement the company had reached with the FTC last year.
“As members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, we are interested in any actions that the FTC has taken or plans to take to investigate whether Google has violated the terms of its consent agreement,” the lawmakers said in the letter.
Google has since disabled the code that had allowed it to track Safari users.