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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