A day after Twitter admitted that it uploads contacts from iPhones and other mobile devices via an application and keeps them for 18 months, Google was caught with its hand in the privacy cookie jar. The search giant developed a code to thwart the private browsing settings of Apple's Safari browser, allowing it to track unsuspecting users' Web surfing, The Wall Street Journal reported.
When the paper called Google to inquire about the practice, the code was discontinued.
The privacy breach was uncovered by Jonathan Mayer, a graduate student in computer science at Stanford University with an interest in cybersecurity. The Journal then had a technical adviser confirm that 22 popular Web sites installed the code on a test computer running Safari, while 23 left the code on an iPhone version of the browser.
Attempts to reach Mayer were not successful. Rachel Whetstone, Google's senior vice president for communications and public policy, said in an e-mail statement that the Journal's allegations were off-base.
"Apple's Safari browser blocks third-party cookies by default," she said. "However, Safari enables many Web features for its users that rely on third parties and third-party cookies, such as "Like" buttons. Last year, we began using this functionality to enable features for signed-in Google users on Safari who had opted to see personalized ads and other content -- such as the ability to "+1" things that interest them."
Whetstone said the code in question was actually "a temporary communication link between Safari browsers and Google's servers, so that we could ascertain whether Safari users were also signed into Google, and had opted for this type of personalization."
The link was intended to be anonymous to separate the collected from personally identifying information, she said. But Google didn't anticipate that the functionality would then open the door for other Google advertising cookies.
"We didn't anticipate that this would happen, and we have now started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers," Whetstone said.
Apple did not respond to our calls seeking comment in time for publication, but told the Journal it was looking into the matter.
Wireless tech analyst Gerry Purdy of MobileTrax said the issue seems reminiscent of the recent controversy over the Carrier IQ software, which was found to run in the background of many popular smartphones, collecting a range of information.
"I suspect that Google has an admirable cause, the ability to make ads that are more relevant to the people who are paying the money," he said. "The industry has got to better regulate or monitor and disclose to people what information is being collected and what the risks and benefits are."
Targeted ads on computers and mobile devices can enhance the user experience, he said,by helping them find products and services closest or most relevant to them. But transparency, he added is key.
"One of the fundamentals of the advertising programs is that people want to make sure they fully understand what's happening," Purdy said, "and what we're seeing right now in a series of events is somewhat of an equivocation."
Posted: 2012-03-07 @ 8:48am PT
Sugarmountain's empire is friend-enemy. Many pple given notice about this subterfuge do not care nor r worried about privacy issues cause they believe that they r not important or r doing anything wrong = they do not understand the larger issue.
Posted: 2012-02-22 @ 4:11pm PT
We got caught, so what should we do now?
I know, we'll lie through our teeth and hope it sounds believable.