The morning after The Wall Street Journal exposed Google’s tracking of unsuspecting Apple users, Google released a statement in an attempt at damage control. The statement, however, is a shameful display of Google’s expertise in twisting the truth and spin. Let’s take a closer examination of the full statement:
Friday, February 17th, 2012 – Rachel Whetstone, Google’s senior vice president for communications released this to the media:
“The Journal mischaracterizes what happened and why. 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. 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 who had opted to see personalized ads and other content–such as the ability to “+1” things that interest them.
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 personalization. But we designed this so that the information passing between the user’s Safari browser and Google’s servers was anonymous–effectively creating a barrier between their personal information and the web content they browse.
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’s important to stress that, just as on other browsers, these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.”
Henry Blodget, who writes for Business Insider, wrote that people would need a “PhD in reading-between-the-lines to figure out” what Google actually means by this ridiculous convoluted statement. Google tried once again to deceive people by the way they phrased and worded their statement. The company obviously thinks the general public is too stupid to see right past their truth bending.
The first sentence of Google’s statement does not entirely dispute the reporting by The Wall Street Journal. The “known Safari functionality” that Google refers to is what The Wall Street Journal called a “loophole” in Apple’s browser security and which Google exploited. It was “known” because the loophole was discovered as early as 2010 and some in the tech community knew about it.
And signed-in users had NOT enabled it – Google did. Google changed the code to trick the Safari browser into thinking the user was filling out a form and it then permitted a tracking cookie to be set. Apple users clearly thought that they were being protected from tracking, so shame on Google for trying to blame the victim.
As for the claim that tracking cookies do not collect personal information – well, that’s a load of bull, because these cookies hold a lot of personal information. This is what Jonathan Mayer, the Stanford University researcher who first discovered what Google was doing, had to say in a telephone interview:
“We have a design document that directly contradicts this statement. The social personalization cookie contains a copy of (a user’s) account ID. I don’t know what definition they’re using (for personal information), but a user’s account ID is included in any reasonable definition. That’s the account that lets you pull up their email, search history, the videos they’ve viewed, the list goes on and on.”
In an amusing mockery of the last two paragraphs in Google’s statement, Henry Blodget offered this analogy, in the communication style Google used, to give you a sense of how ridiculous Google’s logic is:
“I was walking down the street past a friend’s house, and I thought my friend wouldn’t mind if I went in and watched TV and ate some food. There was a window open, so I climbed through it. While I was in the kitchen, I saw some cash. In a situation that I did not anticipate when I climbed through the window, the design of the house enabled this cash to be scooped up by my hands.”
This tactic of deception Google has been using for so long to cover its dirty tracks is getting tired. What’s most hopeful, though, is that the general public is becoming increasingly more knowledgeable about what Big Google is really up to. We’re on to you, Big Google – we are becoming resistant to your BS.
You can read the entire transcript of the telephone interview with Stanford researcher, Jonathan Mayer, where he disputes nearly every point made by Google – click here
For some background on everything discussed here, CBS News did a great job covering what happened – click here