Oh…my…goodness…you won’t believe what Google has been caught doing yesterday – well, actually, you will if you’ve been following my postings on this site – but it still doesn’t make it any less shocking!
Big Google has been caught, outed, by a Stanford University researcher for spying on all the online activity of Apple users. The researcher, Jonathan Mayer, documented his findings in a blog post he wrote and which the Wall Street Journal picked up. After the Wall Street Journal ran the story Thursday night, it spread like wildfire. Now all the major newspapers and television news programs are informing its readers and viewers about the latest major privacy violation by Google.
As many of you know, Apple has its own browser which it calls Safari. According to some estimates, Safari accounts for 6% of desktop Internet browsing and 50% of mobile Internet browsing. I have explained on here before that websites you visit put a tracking device on your browser to record everything you do on their site. Some of these tracking tools will even stay on your browser long after you’ve left the website that put it there in the first place. These tracking devices are called “cookies”. The word “cookie” might sound all innocent – just like how Google’s use of primary colors for its logo might look all innocent- but they are anything but innocent.
These cookies have the capability to really figure you out. They will record every link you click on, how you are engaging with the website, and even how long you stay on a particular page to gauge your interest in that page.
Apple’s web browser, Safari, blocks cookies from being set on their browser. The company does not feel the need to have those tracking devices, and they don’t think that it’s in the best interest of its users. Therefore, Apple took a responsible approach and a revolutionary approach in not allowing cookies on its browser. Apple was smart enough to care about its users so much so that they even made sure the default setting for Safari was set so that cookies was disabled. Now, this default setting is crucial! That’s because many people do not change their default settings and just keep the browser the same way as it came originally.
A little over a week ago, February 8th, I wrote how Google is an advertising-based business that depends on advertising for over 90% of its revenues. I informed you of a man named Christopher Soghoian, a Washington, D.C.-based graduate fellow at the Center for Applied Cyber-Security Research. He made a speech at a security summit where he said that companies that depend heavily on advertising couldn’t care less about your privacy. For these companies, the profits that come from advertising always trump the protection of consumers. In that same speech, Mr. Soghoian made sure to congratulate Apple because the company takes the “responsible route” when it comes to protecting its users. Apple, which does not depend on advertisers to keep its business strong and profitable, has taken steps to secure its users from intrusive activity spying. You can read my entire post on this by clicking here
Google, on the other hand, has done the complete opposite of what Apple has done. Google’s browser, Chrome, is the only browser that does not block tracking. I have already explained why Google does not think it is in their interest to protect the personal data of its users.
Now – we have learned that Google was not only neglecting to protect its own users on Chrome but Google was also deliberately exposing Apple users to tracking too!! Google employees found a loophole around Apple’s anti-tracking browser and exploited that loophole to expose users to tracking without their knowledge whatsoever. Google figured out that if the Safari browser thought a user was filling out a form on the web it allowed cookies to function because the browser assumed you trusted the site enough to give it your personal data.
This was the way in for Google and now it could start tracking Apple’s users. If you want a detailed explanation on how this actually works, take a look at this illustration by the Wall Street Journal – click here.
After being caught spying, Google had this to say:
“We didn’t anticipate that this would happen, and we have now started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers”
Even though Google deliberately circumvented default privacy setting on Apple’s web browser, they release a statement playing dumb – acting all innocent. Please! Save it!
Google often plays dumb when it is caught red-handed, like it did two years ago when its Street View service collected personal information from WiFi networks and when the US Department of Justice busted Google aiding and abetting a con artist to commit his crimes (to learn more on this, click here)
Now, as you can imagine, people are outraged at Google for spying on innocent unsuspecting people. Apple is also outraged and the company said it will take further steps to protect its users from companies like Google exploiting loopholes in its browser to spy on its users.
Members of Congress want to set up new meetings with Google to grill them yet again on privacy violations. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif said,
“Google has some tough new questions to answer in the wake of this latest privacy flap, and that’s why I am asking them to come in for another briefing…these types of incidents continue to create consumer concerns about how their personal information is used and shared”
Several other members of Congress have even contacted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to open a new investigation on Google. This time, even members of the US Senate have weighed in on this latest privacy violation by indicating that Google may also have to answer to the Senate.
Google, you’re a disgrace.
For more information: Wired.com has an article on this story (click here)
USA Today has an article on this story (click here)
CBS News article (click here)