WSJ: Google tracked iPhone, iPad users, bypassing Apple’s Safari browser privacy settings; Microsoft denounces

“Google Inc. and other advertising companies have been bypassing the privacy settings of millions of people using Apple Inc.’s Web browser on their iPhones and computers—tracking the Web-browsing habits of people who intended for that kind of monitoring to be blocked,” Julia Angwin and Jennifer Valentino-Devries reports for The Wall Street Journal.

“The companies used special computer code that tricks Apple’s Safari Web-browsing software into letting them monitor many users,” Angwin and Valentino-Devries report. “Safari, the most widely used browser on mobile devices, is designed to block such tracking by default.”

Angwin and Valentino-Devries report, “Google disabled its code after being contacted by The Wall Street Journal.”

Read more in the full article here.

Edward Moyer reports for CNET, “The Journal also said that on one of Google’s sites–in language that has since been removed–the Internet giant had said Safari users could rely on the browser’s privacy settings to avoid tracking by Google.”

“Safari normally blocks cookies used by ad networks and others to track people,” Moyer reports. “The code reportedly tricked Safari into letting a tracking cookie be placed, the Journal said. Safari lets sites place tracking cookies if a user interacts with the site, such as by filling out a form, and the workaround code essentially tricked Safari into thinking people were submitting a form to Google.”

“The Journal said three other online-ad firms had used similar code: Vibrant Media, WPP’s Media Innovation Group, and Gannett’s PointRoll,” Moyer reports. “Vibrant told the Journal that the code is a ‘workaround’ and doesn’t collect personally identifiable data like names or financial-account numbers. WPP declined to comment, the Journal said, and Gannett said the use of the code was part of a ‘limited test’ to count how many Safari users went to an advertiser’s site after seeing an ad.”

Moyer reports, “The Journal said an Apple representative told the paper that Apple was working to prevent the sidestepping of Safari’s privacy settings.””

Read more in the full article, including Google full statement, here.

Lance Whitney reports for CNET, “Today, Microsoft seized on a Wall Street Journal report that Google sidestepped privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser to track Internet users… ‘Apparently, Google has been able to track users of Apple’s Safari browser while they surf the web on their Apple iPhones, iPads and Macs,’ Ryan Gavin, General Manager for Internet Explorer Business and Marketing, wrote in a blog posted today. ‘This type of tracking by Google is not new. The novelty here is that Google apparently circumvented the privacy protections built into Apple’s Safari browser in a deliberate, and ultimately, successful fashion.'”

“Google has also maintained its innocence in the whole affair, calling the Journal story a mischaracterization of what happened and why,” Whitney reports. “In a statement sent to CNET and attributed to Rachel Whetstone, Google’s senior vice president for Communications and Public Policy, the company said it used known functionality in Safari to provide features that Google users had enabled. Further, the advertising cookies generated did not collect personal information, Google added.”

Read more in the full article here.

Read also: “How Google Tracked Safari Users” via The Wall Street Journal here.

56 Comments

  1. Damn Google! You are putting great effort into digging that hole deeper and deeper. I see why Steve wanted to go thermonuclear on your arse!

    See sparks flying around the nozzles!

    1. Even with Ghostery and cookie preferences set to block cookies from third parties and advertisers, Google seems to find a way to flood Safari with cookies.

      Some companies deserve greater suspicion. Through their aggressive data gathering and ad placements, Google is definitely worthy of additional scrutiny. DoubleClick is a prime example of what I despise about Google. I have also noticed that two Google cookies often slide in to Safari just after using the Remove All Website Data preference option and initiating private browsing. Google is no longer my home page and I am actively seeking to avoid Google whenever possible.

      I would like Apple to add advanced cookie management to Safari that enables me to easily and permanently blacklist cookies from certain sites while letting the rest through per my cookie preference setting (Block cookies from third parties and advertisers). Either that, or let me set a flag to preserve cookies for selected websites when I delete all cookies. Currently, I either delete all and then re-login to sites, or manually delete the cookies that I don’t like (but they keep coming back).

      Apple is justifiably famous for simplifying tasks and processes that were previously complex. Let’s see that Apple genius applied to cookie management in Safari.

  2. “Microsoft denounces”

    Well, that’s a laugh. Are they really so clueless? The makers of an operating system that not only sent back to Mordor, I mean Redmond, identifying information and details about their software — but also other applications on your drive.

  3. If your Apple device has any trace of Google code in it (the search engine, Google+, Docs, Chrome, etc) then you’re only asking for trouble. Google has absolutely no respect or deference to its users, only contempt and disdain. Users are only dollar signs in Google’s eyes, nothing more. Change your search engine to Bing or Yahoo or (my favorite) DuckDuckGo. What does Google+ provide you that something else doesn’t? How about Gmail privacy? Forget about that. Google doesn’t give a shit about users or privacy. Google is your worst fear and puts spook agencies like the CIA, the KGB, Mossad, Homeland Security to shame. If you stick with Google after reading this, then you have only yourself to blame for your loss of any personal data. Truth.

    1. +1
      I would add that I prefer startpage.com over duckduckgo. Both claim not to track you, and I have no reason to doubt them, but startpage allows better customisation for your privacy settings.

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