Social Media Behemoths Google and Facebook: Accused of iPhone Spying By EU Regulators
February 17th, 2012
UK Daily Mail
By Rob Waugh
Google and Facebook may have used a computer 'trick' that allows them to monitor web browsing via Apple's Safari browser to build up advertising 'profiles' - circumventing Apple's safety measures.
The search giant bypassed privacy settings built into Apple's Safari web browser on iPhones, PCs and Macs, according to a recent report.
Other advertising companies, and Facebook, reportedly used a similar method.
Safari is the most popular mobile web browser, used in all models of Apple's iPhone and iPad.
Google allegedly circumvented the protection to build up profiles of web users, using a 'cookie' that collected advertising information.
The move has caused outcry among privacy advocates.
Google allegedly used a 'trick' which sends a blank message to the browser to make it accept unauthorised 'cookies'.
Apple says it is 'working to put a stop' to the practice.
The code was uncovered by a Stanford University researcher Jonathan Mayer and was reported in the Wall Street Journal.
Google has since disabled the code, and claims that the report is in error, and that its cookies only collected anonymous information.
The revelation caused outcry among online privacy advocates.
San Francisco's Electronic Frontier Foundation says, 'Coming on the heels of Google's controversial decision to tear down the privacy-protective walls between some of its other services, this is bad news for the company.
'It's time for Google to acknowledge that it can do a better job of respecting the privacy of Web users.'
Google says that the report was in error.
'The Journal mischaracterizes what happened and why,' says a spokesperson. 'We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. It’s important to stress that these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.'
Under fire: Google is accused of 'bypassing' Apple's privacy protection to gather advertising information
'Unlike other major browsers, Apple’s Safari browser blocks third-party cookies by default,' says the spokesperson. '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.
'To enable these features, we created 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.'
'However, the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser. We didn’t anticipate that this would happen, and we have now started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers.
The policy was due to come into effect on March 1, and would allow Google to share what it knows about users between services such as Google Search, Gmail and YouTube.
The move horrified privacy advocates and bloggers - tech site ZDNet said that Google would 'know more about you than your wife does' and said the policy was 'Big Brother-ish'.
The European Union working party asked for Google to stop the new policy while the working group investigate whether personal data is protected.
‘We call for a pause to ensure that there can be no misunderstanding about Google’s commitments to information rights of EU citizens.’
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