Sunday, February 19, 2012

Safari users, re-check privacy settings!

Photo via ArsTechnica

Safari, the most widely used browser on mobile devices, is designed to block certain tracking cookies by default.

Last week, however, Stanford grad student Jonathan Mayer posted a report that four advertising companies circumvented Apple's cookie blocking feature; The Wall Street Journal independently confirmed. The four companies are Google, Vibrant Media, WPP's Media Innovation Group and Gannett's PointRoll. (View CBS News video: Google Under Fire for Secretly Tracking Users.)

Of the four companies, only Google claims it did not know its specialized cookies also opened the browser to other tracking cookies which would have been otherwise rejected; Google says it has "started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers." Google began using specialized temporary cookies in Safari browsers last year so that people signed into Google Accounts get personalized services (e.g. +1) they had requested. You can read the full Google statement on ArsTechnica (here) and rebuttals from the Stanford researcher on The San Francisco Chronicle.

Safari users will find a few suggestions in How to Get Out of Tracking on Safari.

New government investigations may occur.
"This practice may have violated the company's own stated privacy practices (new here). I fully intend to look into this matter and determine the extent to which the practice was used by Google and other third parties to circumvent consumer choice." (USA Today)
"...took elaborate measures to circumvent the consent order Safari privacy safeguards, and it benefited from the misrepresentations by the commercial value it surreptitiously obtained."
The congressional inquiries triggered by Google's announced changes in its Privacy Policy and Terms of Service to be effective March 1, 2012, are ongoing.

According to Bloomberg, an Illinois man seeks class-action status for his suit filed against Google on Friday on behalf of individuals “whose default privacy settings on the web browser software produced by Apple, known as Safari, were knowingly circumvented by Google." The case is Matthew Soble v. Google Inc., U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware (Wilmington).

Links Updated February 24, 2012

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