Google caught overriding Safari users’ privacy settings

By , Feb 17, 2012

User privacy has been a hot button issue over the past few months thanks to high profile scandals like the CarrierIQ fallout, and the more recent Path debacle. And now it looks like we can add Google to the list of violators.

In a recent investigative report, The Wall Street Journal claims that the search giant has been intentionally overriding the privacy settings of both desktop and iOS Safari users to better track their web browsing activity…

The article says that Google, along with several other smaller advertising networks, is guilty of executing code that tricks Safari into thinking its web tracking is user-approved. The code was discovered by Jonathan Mayer, a Stanford researcher, and confirmed by the Journal’s technical adviser.

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

…Ashkan Soltani [a technical adviser to the Journal] found that ads on 22 of the top 100 websites installed the Google tracking code on a test computer, and ads on 23 sites installed it on an iPhone browser. The technique reaches far beyond those websites, however, because once the coding was activated, it would enable Google tracking across the vast majority of websites.”

Does Google’s unauthorized web tracking put anyone in danger? No. But is it wrong? Absolutely. And even Google knows it. The WSJ says that after it contacted Google for a comment on the story, the Mountain View company disabled the code.

“In Google’s case, the findings appeared to contradict some of Google’s own instructions to Safari users on how to avoid tracking. Until recently, one Google site told Safari users they could rely on Safari’s privacy settings to prevent tracking by Google. Google removed that language from the site Tuesday night.”

Wow. We’re not sure what to make of all of this. It sounds like with the tracking code disabled, the issue is resolved. But we’re not sure Google is going to get off that easy. And they probably shouldn’t. Should they?

How do you feel about your web activity being secretly tracked?

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  • Matt Lewis

    Smh..

  • http://www.facebook.com/yuvraj.wadhwani Yuvraj Wadhwani

    Perhaps Apple would sue Google for this ;)

    • Anonymous

      Sure why not, apple attempts to sue everyone/anyone else, when an opportunity arises, so it seems to me. ; )

      • Anonymous

        It’s the American way :)

  • Bralyn Fagel

    Wow. Who would’ve Google would purposely break through Safari’s security functions. Now that this override to Safari is out in the public… Does this mean viruses can now be transferred via the same method?

    • Anonymous

      Yes and no, Google has not given away the exploit

  • http://twitter.com/Sleepy83 Matt R.

    I say whoever has the conch can lead the charge to Kill the pig, Cut her throat, and Spill her blood! ;-p

    On a serious note, of course Google should pay a fine, but it should as much or more so than the ammount profitted from such illegal activity, otherwise there’s no deterrent.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sriganesh-Gopal/100001485009547 Sriganesh Gopal

      LOTF?

  • Javier Gore

    Google runs a script over your Gmail mails that detects keywords and then you see ads related to your interests on the left hand side of the screen. I’m a musician and once while checking my mail I saw ads advertising recording studios and music producers. Draw your own conclusions…

    • Anonymous

      Yes Javier – but you know this, and allow this, since you are using Gmail (a Google product).

      The difference is using Safari Browser (Apple Product) to surf the web – you are “told” that if you use a search engine (like Google) they won’t track you, you have an expectation of privacy from Google’s prying eyes! That is where Google violated your trust and privacy!

      I’m going to go delete my Google Chrome Browser now – I don’t trust those bastards either, and even though I always use “private” mode, I’m going back to just using my old friend FireFox. :-)

      Bye!

  • http://twitter.com/amad_ahmed01 Amad

    God knows what else they are doing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1341165407 John L Nguyen

    Nothing is ever FREE, get used to it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ryan-Schuster/1653840742 Ryan Schuster

    What interests me most is that this isn’t exactly a glitch or a bug. It’s a security hole that Google purposely exploited. This was no accident. A “do no evil” company should have reported the hole ASAP instead of secretly using it. This was blatant. Those will come up in investigations now Google wants to change its privacy statements.

  • Anonymous

    Shame on you Google….Shame on you!
    One scandal after other!

    Imagine what Google doesn’t embedded in Android/Chrome/Web Search to “enhance” their database, by collecting personal data without any people’s consent!

  • http://twitter.com/purpledodi Jens Tinnerholm

    Somehow i dont really care. We are all tracked one in some way. sure its bs that google did this b-move. But im sure we got several other actors behind the scenes that does thesame thing. just in other ways