Tag Archives: Safari

Huge Fine Against Google For Violating Privacy Is Imminent

Apple Safari icon

The other day the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a strongly worded report condemning Google’s privacy violations and the company’s deliberate obstruction of an investigation into the gathering of sensitive data off personal computers. 

The FCC was deeply disturbed by what Google did but they’re hands were pretty much tied and couldn’t take serious action against Google. The federal agency fined Google $25,000 for impeding their investigation and they said what Google did was technically not illegal. According to PCWorld, this is because the laws are not up-to-date with technology. What Google did was obviously an invasion of privacy and SHOULD be illegal but Google seems to have gotten away scot-free because there aren’t laws that protect Americans from criminals who steal their personal data off unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

Anyway, I came across an article yesterday by the Mercury News stating that Google is about to be hit hard by another federal agency, this time it’s the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). As you all should already know, the FTC has been in the middle of conducting their investigation on Google’s illegal circumvention of Apple’s Safari Web browser.

The Wall Street Journal exposed Google back in February for deliberately bypassing the privacy and security settings of Safari users. Apple set the default setting on its Safari browser to maximum security to protect their users from tracking companies – Google hated this and used a secret code to bypass this security setting. This exposed millions of Safari users to tracking for months without them every knowing about it. Immediately after the Journal released their story several lawsuits against Google popped up.

Now, according to the Mercury News, the major fine against Google is imminent. The newspaper spoke to a source who says that the FTC will take action against Google within a month. The FTC already has a consent order against Google which was put in place late last year. Google violated the privacy of their users when they launched their failed social networking tool called “Buzz”. After an investigation, Google agreed to a settlement that would require the company to regularly submit a compliance report to the FTC and they agreed to two decades of close monitoring from the FTC.  Google also promised never to violate the privacy of their users or any company’s users – evidently they couldn’t keep their promise.

Google faces a fine of $16,000 per violation per day. There were millions of Apple users affected and victimized by this invasion of privacy so you can imagine that the fine could be colossal. Let’s hope the FTC puts Google in its place and hits them hard – Google definitely deserves it.

For more information:

PCWorld, “Google Says Snooping on Wi-Fi Networks Isn’t Illegal” – click here

Mercury News, “Google target of new federal privacy probe” – click here

Computerworld, “Privacy watchdog, lawmaker push for Google probe” – click here

The Register, “Google faces WHOPPING FTC fine for Safari privacy gaffe” – click here

The Hill, “FTC official: Sharing on social sites ‘can’t be forced’” – click here

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Embarrassing, Apple Is Responsible For The Vast Majority Of Google’s Mobile Revenue

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

There are new revelations about the health of Google’s mobile business and it looks like Google is in really bad shape. Thanks to documents submitted in the legal battle between Google and Oracle over patents, the public gets a new look at exactly how well Google’s Android is performing.

Google is secretive about letting the public know about how much revenue Android brings in – but now we know that Android actually doesn’t make much money for Google at all. Google’s overall 2011 revenues totaled about $40 billion and much of that is from ads from search results on desktop computers. Very little of Google’s overall revenues is from mobile.

According to The Guardian, Android generated less than $550 million between 2008 and 2011 – pitiful. Google produces the Android software which it then gives away for free to handset makers to sell. Google makes its money from ad revenue on the mobile devices and from applications on Google Play (formerly known as Android Market), which is doing extremely poorly compared to Apple’s App store.

Here is where it gets particularly interesting – Google actually makes more money from Apple’s mobile devices than it does from its own Android powered smartphones! Now isn’t that hilarious, ha-ha, especially considering the recent bad blood between Google and Apple.

Apple is responsible for generating more than four times as much revenue for Google! This is because at least half of all smartphone owners use an Apple device and Google is the default search engine. Apple also extensively used Google Maps – but as recently told Google to get lost and is now using a mixture of its own acquired mapping technology and free crowdsourced mapping.

Who knew that Apple had such a big role in Google’s mobile business?

Majority of Google’s mobile traffic can be credited to Apple. Google should be grateful to Apple for being so helpful, but Google treats Apple like crap. Google expressed its gratitude to Apple by trying to impose itself into Apple’s territory, which infuriated Apple.

What did Apple do as payback?

Apple no longer extensively uses Google Maps, Apple added other search engines as alternative options to Google’s, and Apple appears to be ditching Google altogether in China (a huge and attractive market). And we all know about how Apple set its Safari Web browser default to automatically block third-party tracking cookies  - however, it was exposed last month that Google illegally circumvented this security feature, but is now facing countless lawsuits from Apple users.

Psst…hey Google…don’t bite that hand that feeds you.

For more information:

The Guardian, “Google’s Android has generated just $550m since 2008, figures suggest” – click here

AppleInsider, “Google earns 80% of its mobile revenue from iOS, just 20% from Android” – click here

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The FTC Has A Strong Case Against Google

Federal Trade Commission

The Stanford privacy researcher who first uncovered Google evading the default privacy settings for all users of Apple’s Safari web browser believes that the Federal Trade Commission has a “slam dunk” case that Google violated its privacy agreement with the government.

The facts in this case are unusually clear cut,” Jonathan Mayer, a grad student in computer science and law and a researcher at the Stanford Law Center for Internet and Society, in a phone interview with TPM.

Read more – click here

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Is It Legally Impossible To Go After Google Over Privacy Violations?

English: Gavel

Yesterday, I informed you that Google is facing a lot of legal trouble. When Google deliberately bypassed browser security of Apple Safari users, the company has been hit with countless lawsuits. Many Apple users are furious with Google for exposing them to spying and collecting their personal data without their permission. You can’t blame them for wanting to get some legal assistance to send a Google a clear message that privacy is a fundamental right you just can’t violate.

However, it seems like these people have an uphill battle. What Google did is wrong and despicable, but it will be extremely difficult to go after them legally. First of all, Google is a massive company with deep pockets and it’s heavily surrounded by lawyers. In addition, past legal cases have shown that courts often don’t do anything about breaches of online privacy. There have been people who sued Internet companies before and majority of them end up losing. The law isn’t currently on the side of the average user because the law doesn’t recognize online privacy as it should! Americans are completely vulnerable to these Internet companies and they can’t even seek protection from their courts of justice!

I read an excellent and informative article by Gerry Silver, a lawyer who specializes in IT litigation. In his article, titled “’Do Not Track’ – Online Privacy Litigation Now and in the Future”, Mr. Silver admits that people who seek court relief to tackle online privacy concerns are pretty much wasting their time. The courts do nothing about Internet companies, like Google, harvesting our personal data and using it for their own purposes – whatever it may be.

People have tried various ways to seek out some sort of justice from the courts to protect their online privacy – but it has all resulted in limited to no success.  Lawsuits have been filed claiming that Internet companies violated various laws, most commonly including:     

  • The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
  • The Wiretap Act
  • Stored Communication Act
  • Deceptive Act or Practice/ Unfair Competition Statutes
  • Trespass to Chattels
  • Contract-Based Claims
  • Right of Publicity Claims

 Many of these claims against the Internet companies fail because the courts force victims to prove their personal data has significant monetary value. They can’t claim damage on personal data because it doesn’t have real value apparently. Often times these third-parties that track you all over the Internet are not considered uninvited intruders – even though they steal your personal data without your full consent, they are off the hook if a website’s terms of service give them permission.

Many people don’t even know that there are hundreds of tracking companies that steal their personal data all the time. This collection of data is done completely without the permission of users and the vast majority of people are in the dark about tracking on the Internet to even voice their concerns against it.

It’s a real shame that the courts can’t really do anything about online privacy because the laws don’t go far enough. People have nowhere to turn but to pressure their representatives in government to pass comprehensive legislation that gives Americans more rights over their personal data. Mr. Silver writes that the new consumer online Privacy Bill of Rights (unveiled by the White House last month) is a good first step in getting Americans the desperately needed help to fight back against Internet companies – but it doesn’t go far enough.

“The institution of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and legislation arising therefrom may provide users with more control over what personal data companies collect and how they use it… However, Internet companies will still be able to use the information as part of their own market research and product development. Also, future compliance with the “Do Not Track” button appears to be voluntary at this point, meaning advertisers or other Internet companies may decide to attempt to override it.”

The White House proposal is still in its early stages, but if this proposed consumer Privacy Bill of Rights amounts to nothing meaningful for Americans then it won’t change the lack of support shown to victimized Americans and the dismal situation in the courts. More Americans will still go through lengthy and expensive legal tug-of-war with these Internet companies and Americans will always end up losing. Currently, Internet companies have everything in their favor and Americans simply don’t have enough protections.

English: Author: Irish Tug of War Source: (OWN)

Put the pressure on government representatives to act in favor of the average Internet user. Let them know that you’re serious about your online safety and that your personal data is yours alone. Privacy is not a privilege, it’s a right! The Internet companies and Google are ripping us off. They are taking, stealing, and milking us dry of our personal data! Say NO!  People need to care enough to make changes in government, then the government will make necessary legal changes, this will result in a safer Internet for all!

The Apple users suing Google have a strong case against Google – and their case differs from the typical Internet privacy related cases. Google actually used code to deliberately trick their browser into accepting tracking cookies, this code allowed Google to bypass the security setting of their browser which was set to prevent third-party tracking. Apple users had no idea this had happened to them until it was exposed by The Wall Street Journal’s report last month. This is an obvious violation of privacy and it has gone too far! Hopefully, these Apple users suing Google can ultimately triumph! It’s a difficult thing to do, but you gotta keep fighting from all angles until we finally breakthrough.

For more information:

Gerry Silver, “Do Not Track – Online Privacy Litigation Now and in the Future” – click here

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Google Faces More Privacy Scrutiny And Legal Trouble

Good news, folks!

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Google is now facing new investigations over privacy violations. One month ago, Google was caught red-handed stealing personal data from the computers of Apple Safari users. Google used a code to trick Apple’s web browser into accepting tracking cookies, which would then track users on the Internet. Of course, Apple users had no idea this had happened to them and Google knew exactly what it was doing. The code Google used to bypass Apple’s web browser security had been known about for a number of years – Google made the unethical decision to exploit the security vulnerability very deliberately.   

Google was caught by a Stanford University researcher named Jonathan Mayer. He exposed Google by explaining in detail how the company was able to circumvent the Safari browser security to the Wall Street Journal. After being exposed, Google tried to play all innocent and stupid – “oh I’m sorry, I swear I had no idea my little code would do such a thing. Oops, oh well. Get over it”.

People didn’t get over it, immediately after the story was published by the Journal several lawsuits were filed against Google. The lawsuits have seemingly never stopped piling up! I have lost count how many times Google has been sued by their victims.

Anyway, there is word now that the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – OMG, yes, FTC finally! – is seriously looking into whether Google violated privacy agreements.  The FTC has been in a deep sleep for a while now and hasn’t really said anything against Google. This is the first time we are hearing the FTC is actually taking real steps to correct transgression and triumph over ‘evil’.  The FTC can levy fines of $16,000 per violation, per day. This might not seem like very much punishment, especially for a company like Google, but Google victimized millions of people. There are millions of people who use Apple’s Safari web browser. If calculated appropriately and comprehensively, it can add up against Google very quickly.

But - Google was forced to pay up half a billion dollars before by the US Department of Justice for aiding and abetting a con artist to commit his crimes. That hasn’t stopped them from taking part in unethical behavior. Perhaps Google needs heavier legal penalties to prevent them from victimizing innocent people in the future. Google just doesn’t get it.

Google can sometimes be handled with kid gloves, but European regulators don’t play nice with Google. European Union data protection authorities are already investigating Google for its new intrusive privacy policy which took effect on March 1st. Their investigation now also includes the bypassing of Apple’s web browser security. It will be very interesting to see what they officially conclude!

We’ll just have to wait and see what develops. Stay tuned – to be continued!

For more information:

Wall Street Journal, “Google in New Privacy Probes” – click here

MercuryNews, “Google faces scrutiny from states” – click here

paidContent, “Lawsuits Mushroom Over Google Browser Tracking” – click here

MarketWatch (Press release), “Consumer Watchdog Applauds FTC, EU…” – click here

googleexposed, “Google Tricked And Lied To Apple Users...” – click here

googleexposed, “A Breakdown Of Google’s Statement…” – click here

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Rebuttal: Apple vs Google – The War Over Third Party Cookies

Matthew Yglesias is a writer for Slate. He published an article today entitled “Me Want Cookies! Apple vs. Google: the war over third-party cookies.” He argues, counterintuitively, for less Internet privacy because he thinks it’s ultimately against the best interest of the public. You can read his full article by clicking here. The rest of my post below offers point-by-point rebuttals against some of what he wrote:

 “There is a new front in the titanic war between Google and Apple for control of the Internet: browser privacy”

  • Excellent. When companies fight over privacy, the ultimate winners are the consumers. It would be horrible if companies colluded together to diminish privacy or if they simply didn’t care. If companies want to fight over privacy controls, then may the best “man” win! No doubt consumers will overwhelmingly support the company that wants to increase their privacy versus the one that wants to decrease it.

“Google had devised a clever means to “trick” Apple’s mobile Safari browser into allowing the installation of third-party cookies.”

  • I wouldn’t describe an unethical, legally reprehensible, and deliberate circumvention of privacy settings on Apple’s web browser as “clever”. Are you kidding me? I’m sure the people who filed a class-action lawsuit against Google for violating their privacy and security settings would disagree with you.

That sounds—and is—shady, but iPhone users may feel better about it when they learn that third-party cookie installation is standard on the browsers you’ve been using on your computer for years.”

  • Yeah, so? What’s your point? Just because something negative and harmful was accepted before doesn’t mean it should be permissible forever. Not too long ago, everybody used to smoke everywhere until we learned about the dangers of second-hand smoking. As people catch on and new discovers are made, there will be a progression. That’s why browsers now block uninvited third-party intruders from latching on to your browser like a parasite. That’s also why we are starting to develop Do Not Track buttons for all browsers.

“The option to turn them off has long existed, but this is one of these default settings that almost nobody uses in practice.”

  • The setting to turn off tracking might have technically existed buried somewhere deep into the browser – but research has shown that people often do not change default settings on their browsers. It’s not because they don’t want more privacy, it’s because they don’t know better. Google knows this all too well. The default settings for all browsers should be at maximum security and privacy – if anybody wants to then expose themselves to tracking, be my guest. Giving those who don’t know better a helping hand by protecting them from tracking is the ethical and correct thing to do

“The main use of third-party cookies is targeted advertising”

  • Right, and there are over 800 companies who spy on you all over the Internet. Some of these companies sole business purpose is to track you for all sorts of reasons, not just for advertising. With increasing rates of identity theft and the mass amount of information these companies are harvesting of us it’s getting disturbing and alarming. We don’t even know what exactly they know about us and what they are doing with that information. We don’t know how long they hang on to our personal data or how exactly it was obtained. There is so much secrecy and mystery to how these trackers function, and this is intolerable.

“What Apple did with Safari was flip the default—assuming that users did not want third-party cookies”

  • No. Wrong! Apple did not flip the default, Google did! Google assumed that Apple users would actually prefer to be tracked and then deliberately bypassed their browser security without their knowledge. And, by the way, John Battelle founded the online advertising network Federated Media Publishing – obviously he supports Google.

“Google as a privacy-invader sometimes come across as a bit churlish and short-sighted, as if I were to announce with great fanfare my discovery that happy-hour specials are just another money-making plot from the bar industry.”

  • The public has a right to know about every privacy violation by Google. In addition, it never hurts to remind people that Google makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising. You are not Google’s customer, you’re Google’s product. The advertisers will always be number one priority to Google and this means that what it best for Internet users is always in the background.

“Google is not a charity, but it has built a remarkably successful company by giving products away for free.”

  • Wrong. Google’s products and services are not “free” – far from it. We don’t pay with dollars, we pay with our privacy. Google harvests our personal data and then sells it for huge profits. And we’re being gouged by Google! The trade-off is not fair. Google likes to fool people into thinking that they get to use their services for “free” so that they let their guard down. Google even falsely advertises its Google Apps for Education service as a charity – but it isn’t. Students have to pay the ultimate price.

“More efficient advertising creates incentives for firms to expend more resources on improving the real quality of their services.”

  • Sure – but that doesn’t mean advertisers need to know my name, address, and the name of my best friend’s dog to improve their services. I’m not convinced that collecting more personal data of us and watching our every move improves services. No thank you!

“Right now big advertisers are wasting an awful lot of money… In a future of ubiquitous ad targeting, Ford and Geico will stop wasting marketing money on me”

  • I wouldn’t want to live in that future. Who wants to live in a world where the only things you see, experience, and hear is stuff some company thinks you should see, experience, and hear? This to me is censorship. I have bought many products from companies whose ads really caught my attention – and it’s not because I always needed or wanted their stuff. Censorship leads to people living in their own little world and it discourages new discovery. Also, the person I am today and my lifestyle of today might not be the same five years from now. Why would I want ads for a lifestyle that is now part of my past? What worries me is that personalization will result in companies telling you who you are by reaffirming your identity with what you see, experience, and hear. I actually don’t respond well to so-called “personalized” ads. Personalized ads are creepy and annoying. It’s like giving that person at school, who has a crush on you, a simple smile and then all of sudden they won’t stop following you around everywhere and they keep asking you out for a date. Um…no thanks and get lost.

“And some of those ad savings will allow Ford and Geico to offer cheaper products”

  • That’s a bit of a stretch

“If the privacy benefits as such were the big draw, we’d expect to see more evidence of users opting-in to these settings.”

  • No, people should opt-out of more security and privacy. If Google services are so great and if privacy is so overrated, then Google should convince people to lower their privacy settings of their own volition (and not deliberately bypassed by Google). I sure wanna hear that sales pitch. Creepy mutated ads don’t work, they turn people off. There are many ways of figuring out your audience and improving the effectiveness of ad campaigns – this does not require we sell our souls to these advertising companies to achieve this.
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A British Android Smartphone Owner Sues Google Over Privacy Policy Bait-And-Switch

 Google’s new company slogan should be: “Another Day – Another Lawsuit”

As more and more people start waking up from their blissful slumber, expect to see more legal nightmares for Google. After Google deliberately bypassed the privacy and security settings of Apple’s Safari web browser so that Google could spy on those users – several Apple Safari users filed a class-action lawsuit against Google for violating their privacy and intentionally exposing them to other potential threats.

Well now – a British man named Alex Hanff has filed a lawsuit at a small claims court to demand reimbursement from Google for about £400. That is how much it will cost him to replace his Google Android smartphone.

Mr. Hanff says that Google left him with no other option but to discard his phone completely when the company decided to go ahead and implement their new more intrusive privacy policy – despite public outcry asking the company to reconsider.

He says that because Google changed their privacy policy, they broke the contract terms he agreed to when he purchased his smartphone. He bought the phone under the understanding his personal information would be used in one way and now Google said they will use it in different way. Mr. Hanff isn’t going to let Google pull a bait-and-switch on him. He said,

“The changes are a significant infringement of my right to privacy and I do not consent to Google being able to use my data in such a way”

It’s an expensive change for Britain’s estimated 9.3 million Android users who are not allowed to opt-out of the new privacy policy. All they can do is either accept increased intrusion to their privacy or give up their phones altogether. If Google is going to force people to accept the new policy, then Google should be forced to pay people back the money they deceived them out of.

Last week, Attorneys General from 36 US states and territories sent a strongly worded letter to Google asking them to give consumers an opt-out option from Google’s new privacy policy. They said that Google’s privacy policy will lead to various violations of their privacy and it will be expensive for people to escape Google. They wrote:

“This invasion of privacy will be costly for many users to escape. For users who rely on Google products for their business – a use that Google has actively promoted – avoiding this information sharing may mean moving their entire business over to different platforms, reprinting any business cards or letterhead that contained Gmail addresses, re-training employees on web-based sharing and calendar services, and more. The problem is compounded for the many federal, state, and local government agencies that have transitioned to Google Apps for Government at the encouragement of your company, and that now will need to spend taxpayer dollars determining how this change affects the security of their information and whether they need to switch to different platforms”

Google refused to pay any attention to their concerns, though. Google has refused to listen to anybody but themselves and advertisers. Google’s business model depends on 90% of their revenues to come from advertising. Google wants to harvest more of our personal data so that it can sell it to advertisers.

This lack of respect for the concerns of others left Mr. Hanff shaking his head in disgust. He said,

“They’ve been asked to suspend the privacy policy changes several times, and Google keeps telling the regulators where to go. They’ve basically stuck two fingers up. Hopefully my case will open an avenue for other consumers to take similar action”

Pay up, Google! You neglected to respect your users; they will now neglect to do business with you. Good riddance!

To read my other post regarding the letter from the Attorneys General – click here

UPDATE

A commenter asked me to provide more details on this story, specifically the process Mr. Hanff took to file his lawsuit:

According to an interview between Mr. Hanff and The Inquirer, his choice to file his lawsuit at a small claims court was very deliberate. He said that small claims courts are much easier to get through, require minimal money to file a complaint, and you don’t need a lawyer to represent you. He encourages other Android owners to file a lawsuit with a small claims court for those reasons because he knows that many people don’t have the money and time to go through an extensive lawsuit – whereas, at a small claims court, there is little to lose and much to gain. Mr. Hanff said,

“The cost of filing in Small Claims Court is very low and the chance of having costs awarded against you should you lose are very slim, so from a risk mitigation perspective it is the safest route for consumers to take. The last thing I wanted to do was put people at risk of huge costs so I would advise the public to use the small claims route if they want to take action against Google on this issue.

I expect Google will offer a defense. I certainly don’t have any plans to accept an out of court settlement from Google unless that settlement can be made public and includes an admission from Google that the changes are prejudicial to privacy. So yes, I am expecting a fight but it is a fight I am more than prepared to undertake.”  

For more information:

The Telegraph, “Google sued for Android refund over privacy shakeup” – click here

The Telegraph, “Google Android users ‘must accept new privacy policy’” – click here

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A List Of Major Developments Since Google Announced Its New Privacy Policy

English: Google Logo officially released on Ma...

Image via Wikipedia

Jan. 24: Google announces a plan to link user data across its email, video, social-networking and other services. The company says the move will simplify its privacy policy, improve the user experience and help advertisers find customers more easily, especially on mobile devices. Critics raise privacy concerns. The plan is to take effect March 1.

Jan 26: Eight American lawmakers, consisting of both Democrats and Republicans, send a letter to Google saying that they are concerned about Google’s plans to change its privacy policies and terms of service. In a separate strongly worded letter Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif and Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D- NC send a letter to the CEO of Google to ask him to appear before Congress.

Feb 1: Rival Microsoft Corp. runs full-page newspaper ads slamming Google and its new policy. Microsoft uses the opportunity to tout its own Web-based alternatives, saying for instance that users of its free email service, Hotmail, don’t have to worry about the content of their emails being used to help target ads.

Feb 2: CEO, Larry Page, declined to appear before Congress, but he sent two of his executive minions to appear instead. After being grilled for two hours, the Google executives failed to ease the concerns of the members of Congress. In fact, they made things worse. Rep. Mary Bono Mack said that the Google executives were not “forthcoming” and that she left the meeting even more confused and concerned than she had going into it. She suggested that Americans should stop using Google services “if Google goes too far

Feb 3: The European Union’s data protection authorities release a letter to Google asking the company to delay the new policy until they have verified that it doesn’t break the bloc’s data protection laws. Google says it had briefed data protection agencies beforehand and had heard no substantial concerns then.

Feb 8: A consumer watchdog group sues the Federal Trade Commission in an attempt to prevent Google from making its planned changes. The Electronic Privacy Information Center contends Google’s new policies would violate restrictions imposed in an agreement reached with the FTC last year.

Feb 16: The Wall Street Journal publishes an article exposing Google’s spying. The article revealed that Google deliberately bypassed security and privacy settings of Apple’s Safari web browser so that Google could track those users. Google admitted that it purposely bypassed the privacy setting, which resulted in Apple users being tracked without their knowledge. The following day, several Apple users file a class-action lawsuit against Google for violating their privacy.

Feb 20: Microsoft writes a blog post to reveal that Internet Explorer browser users were exposed to tracking too by Google. Microsoft said that Google deliberately confused a security protocol feature, which resulted in tracking cookies to be set on Internet Explorer browsers.

Feb 22: 36 US Attorneys General send a letter to Google expressing deep concern about their new privacy policy. They said that Google’s new privacy policy will expose users to violations of their rights and privacy. They urged Google to give users an opt-out option.

Feb 23: The White House unveils a consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The proposal is intended to give Internet users back control of their personal data and protect their online privacy. However, these proposed new guidelines are not mandatory for Google and advertisers to abide by and emphasizes self-regulation too much. Immediately after the White House made the announcement, Google finally caved and said that they will include a ‘Do Not Track’ option for their Chrome web browser. Google’s web browser was the only one that did not have this anti-tracking functionality, while everybody else’s did. Google says it will include the Do Not Track by the end of the year. Why does it need to take that long? Who knows…it’s Google.

Feb 24: Google hires Susan Molinari as their head lobbyist in Washington. Ms. Molinari has extensive close ties with the Republican establishment. She was once a Republican representative in Congress herself. Google hired her because they want to influence how lawmakers vote in the coming months. They hope that Ms. Molinari can convince Republican lawmakers to vote against stringent online privacy laws.

Feb 26: The Chairman of the US Federal Trade Commission says that Google is giving its users a “binary and somewhat brutal choice” with their new privacy policy.

Feb 28: France’s regulator says a preliminary analysis finds that Google’s new policy appears to violate European data-protection rules. The regulatory agency CNIL says Google’s explanation of how it will use the data is too vague and difficult to understand “even for trained privacy professionals.”

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Use Anti-Tracking Tools To Boost Your Browser Security And To Ward Off Google’s Spying

 Okay, so we all know that Google tracks your every move on the millions, yes millions, of websites all over the Internet. Google has the following tools to make this happen: Google Analytics, Google AdSense, doubleclick, googleapis, googlesyndication, etc.

It is almost impossible to escape Google. Almost every site you visit has a Google tracker on it and Google knows exactly what you did on that site. They will know what you looked at, how long you looked at it, what you bought – they even know what ads you simply hovered your mouse over without actually clicking on the ad.

We all know users of Chrome, Google’s web browser, are the most vulnerable of all – but, when it was discovered that Google deliberately circumvented security settings of Apple’s and Microsoft’s web browsers this got me concerned. Both Apple and Microsoft have now been made aware that Google bypassed their security settings and are now working to protect their users from Google’s spying eyes.

All of this got me doing a little more research on these trackers Google is so dependent on to keep an eye on all of us. As you already know, the privacy settings of responsible browsers like Apple’s and Microsoft’s make it so that it blocks third-party cookies from being placed on your browser. These third-party “cookies” are often the type of cookies advertisers use to track you.

First party cookies are usually used by the sites you visit and they do make the online experience better. For example, these first-party cookies remember some of your preferences like what language you use, it keeps you logged on so you don’t have to keep logging on when you leave the site, and they help with online shopping. So not all cookies are created equal and not all are maliciously tracking you. Also, one should obviously expect that a site you visit is tracking your movement. For example, The New York Times wants to know how many times a particular article was clicked on to determine how popular it is.

So, we expect that we will have this sort of relationship with websites we agreed to visit and we’re well aware of this relationship. However, on some of these websites there are mini-sites within those websites that also track you. Many of us are not aware that third-parties impose themselves on us and track us. There are literally hundreds of companies that track Internet users – and many of them are in business solely to collect personal data to sell to others. These are the guys we want out. They are the uninvited nosey guests who are snooping on us, and we don’t even know it. One particular page on the Internet can have dozens of trackers on it.

The good news is that there are organizations that counter these tracking companies. They build add-on applications that you load to your browser; it then blocks all sorts of trackers. Also, believe it or not, those social networking buttons you see everywhere (even on my own blog) are tracking you too. Those “Like” buttons from Facebook, Google, and Twitter – to name a few – are tracking your visit. You don’t even have to have an account with them or be logged in for them to know you have visited a page where their button is on.

Anyway, it’s definitely worth spending some time researching some add-ons to use to block these trackers. It’s great to have your browser security to its maximum level, but the add-ons give you an extra layer of security. You can find add-ons for Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari browsers. One add-on I like to use is Adblock Plus, which blocks creepy personalized advertisements on the web – it even blocks ads embedded in videos. So you can watch videos on the web without annoying ads playing in front on it.

PCworld published an article yesterday on “Do Not Track Plus”, which does a great job blocking tracking. You can read it by clicking here

CNET also has an article on stopping the “tracking paparazzi”, click here

ITWorld published four great articles – these two are on tracking on the web (click here and here)

This one discusses the popular anti-tracking add-on called Ghostery. Many of you might already be aware of Ghostery or already use it. Well, you probably want to read this article then. Ghostery is owned by Evidon, formerly known as The Better Advertising Project. (Click here)

Of course there will always be those who criticize anti-tracking add-ons by claiming that they will destroy the free Internet because ads pay for the content you see. I don’t buy this argument one bit. The last article by ITWorld discusses this further (Click here)

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Déjà-vu, Microsoft Says Google Bypassed Internet Explorer Security Too

 Whoa Déjà-vu!

Today, Microsoft has come out with a strong condemnation of Google for bypassing the privacy setting of its browser, Internet Explorer. In a blog post by Microsoft’s Dean Hachamovitch, Corporate Vice President, Internet Explorer – he exposed Google’s lack of respect for Microsoft’s security setting and how Google deliberately circumvented a security tool put adopted by Microsoft to protect its users from spying eyes.

By default setting, Internet Explorer is designed to prevent tracking cookies from being set on the browser and keep out those who want to track your every move on the web from seeing what you’re doing.

Internet Explorer uses something called P3P (Platform for Privacy Preferences) – it works by allowing websites to send information about their privacy policies to the browser, which the browser then reads and makes a judgment to allow or prevent cookies to be set on the browser. It’s a good thing for users because the browser makes sure to check a website’s privacy policies for you before you even have to. This security setting also prevents companies whose sole or main business objective it is to collect personal data of you to sell to advertisers. These companies usually use “third party” cookies, which are the notorious tracking cookies people hate so much. Keep in mind that over 90% of Google’s revenues come from advertising.

However, just like in the case of Apple’s Safari browser, there was a loophole in Internet Explorer’s privacy setting too. As early as 2010, the loophole was known about and could have been exploited by any company which had to will to exploit it. Of course, true to character, Google exploited it.

Since Google neither abides by nor respects the P3p security protocol, it obviously should have been rejected by Internet Explorer. The browser should have not allowed Google’s website from setting tracking cookies. But Google tricked the browser by changing the code the browser uses to read the privacy policies of particular websites.

Instead of Google leaving a certain area in the code blank after the browser asked Google to submit its privacy policies, Google inserted the following text: “This is not a P3P policy!”

The browser does not read human language; it reads code that only computers and technically skilled people can decipher. So when the browser security read Google’s text, it didn’t understand it and so it resorts to doing the same action it would do if that area of the code were left blank – it allowed Google’s cookies to be set. You can read how this all works in more detail by visiting Microsoft’s blog (click here)

Microsoft says that they are actively investigating more ways to protect its users now and has contacted Google to ask for the company to respect the privacy of all Internet users no matter what browser they use. In the same blog post, Microsoft said they come out with a Tracking Protection List available on Internet Explorer 9 that will prevent Google and others from trying to bypass security.

When asked to respond on the latest allegation of privacy and security violations, Google has so far declined to comment.

For crying out loud, Big Google, RESPECT our privacy!

What we need is government intervention to introduce laws to protect Internet users. In the United States, there are hardly any protections for Americans. This is getting ridiculous. People need to demand protection from their representatives before this gets too out of control.

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