Google is bypassing the privacy settings of Internet Explorer, claims Microsoft
Accusation comes after Google reportedly bypassed Apple Safari privacy settings
By Ted Thornhill and Rob Waugh
Last updated at 3:07 PM on 21st February 2012
Internet search giant Google is evading privacy settings of Internet Explorer users, claims Microsoft, the computer firm behind the browser.
Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Internet Explorer, accused Google in a blog post yesterday and said that the search giant has been contacted and asked to stop the practice.
Mr Hachamovitch explained that it was after reading reports that Google was bypassing the privacy settings on Apple’s Safari browser that the discovery was made.
He wrote: ‘When the IE team heard that Google had bypassed user privacy settings on Safari, we asked ourselves a simple question: Is Google circumventing the privacy preferences of Internet Explorer users too? We’ve discovered the answer is yes: Google is employing similar methods to get around the default privacy protections in IE and track IE users with cookies.’
Rachel Whetstone, Senior Vice President of Communications and Policy, however, defended Google’s activities.
She said: ‘Microsoft omitted important information from its blog post.
‘Microsoft uses a “self-declaration” protocol – known as “P3P” – dating from 2002 under which Microsoft asks websites to represent their privacy practices in machine-readable form. It is well known – including by Microsoft – that it is impractical to comply with Microsoft’s request while providing modern web functionality. We have been open about our approach, as have many other websites.
‘Today the Microsoft policy is widely non-operational. A 2010 research report indicated that over 11,000 websites were not issuing valid P3P policies as requested by Microsoft.’
Google had allegedly been circumventing privacy protection settings on Safari to build up profiles of web users, using a ‘cookie’ that collected advertising information.
Safari is the most popular mobile web browser, used in all models of Apple’s iPhone and iPad.
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.’
‘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 personalisation.
‘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.’
It 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.’
Mr Hachamovitch says Internet Explorer 9 has an additional privacy feature called Tracking Protection which will protect users from Google’s prying.