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FTC urged to probe Google's Safari-tracking gaffe

Choc Factory blames Apple's browser 'functionality' for ad slurp

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Google is once again under fire after a Stanford researcher discovered that the search giant and other advertising outfits have circumnavigated the privacy settings of millions of Apple Safari users.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Google, Vibrant Media Inc, WPP PLC's Media Innovation Group LLC and Gannett Co.'s PointRoll Inc used code that "tricked" Safari into allowing users to have their online browsing habits tracked.

Apple's browser blocks most tracking by default with exceptions for websites that, for example, require interaction from a user – such as the filling in of an online form. Google claimed in a statement that the WSJ had "mischaraterised" the code used by the ad companies.

"We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled," the Chocolate Factory said. "It's important to stress that these advertising cookies do not collect personal information."

However, US lawmakers have once again expressed their concerns about Google's data-handling behaviour. A letter to the Federal Trade Commission penned by three Congressmen on Friday [PDF] demanded to know what - if anything - the regulator planned to do in response to Google's latest privacy gaffe.

Apple, meanwhile, told the WSJ that it was "working to put a stop" to the functionality that allowed Google and others to bypass the browser's privacy settings.

Google has since disabled the code, which installed a temporary cookie on the phones or computers of Safari users; the search biz's brainiacs had embedded code into some of its ads that fooled the Apple browser into thinking that a form was being submitted to Google.

Microsoft couldn't resist having yet another dig at its rival. Redmond - which makes tons of cash out of advertising - said in a blog post:

If you find this type of behavior alarming and want to protect your confidential information and privacy while you’re online, there are alternatives for you.

Windows Internet Explorer is the browser that respects your privacy. Through unique built in features like Tracking Protection and other privacy features in IE9, you are in control of who is tracking your actions online. Not Google. Not advertisers. Just you.

On 1 March, Google will be cutting and shutting most of its privacy policies into one terms-of-service document, in part to help the company cross-pollinate its ads on products such as YouTube. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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