Google is Bypassing Safari Privacy Settings, Report Says
Thanks to upcoming changes to Google's privacy policies, everyone from consumer advocates and government regulators to SEO experts and internet marketing analysts have been taking the time to scrutinize what will be different and what will stay the same.
Jonathan Mayer, a graduate student at Stanford University, found something that raised some serious red flags. According to Mayer, Google (in addition to three other companies: PointRoll, Media Innovation Group, and Vibrant Media) uses special code scripts to intentionally bypass Safari privacy settings.
What Makes Safari Different?
With the exception of the default Android browser and Opera Mini, all popular internet browsers include a mechanism that blocks third-party cookies, defined as a cookie from a source other than your current location on the web. Third-party cookies make up the bulk of cookies sourced from advertisers, such as Google AdWords.
What makes Safari different from other browsers is that third-party cookie blocking is turned on by default. Since Safari is Apple's in-house browser, all iPod Touches, iPads, iPhones and Macs are shipped with third-party cookie blocking turned on, representing a huge portion of the online community.
Circumventing Default Privacy Settings
Obviously, Google isn't too thrilled about the fact that a huge portion of their user base is denying third-party cookies without even realizing it. In an apparent response, the search giant has been embedding privacy-circumventing code into ads, particularly the +1 button that's associated with Google+.
When a Safari user clicks the +1 button located in the ad, Google's code effectively "tricks" the user's computer into believing that the user has completed a web form, thereby allowing Google to place a tracking cookie on the user's hard drive.
The Response So Far
In response to the apparent privacy circumvention, consumer advocate John Simpson described Google's cookie policies as "unfair and deceptive," and said that Google has been "lying" about the efficacy of methods that individuals can use to opt out of targeted advertising. A number of members of Congress evidently agree, as some have already requested a complete investigation on the part of the FTC.
The good news is that Google has already announced that they'll discontinue the use of tracking cookies. They also maintain that no sensitive or personal information was collected, though proof of that remains to be seen.