REPORT: Microsoft Also Targeted By Google Tracking “Trick”

Posted by · February 20, 2012 4:44 pm

Last week, the Wall Street Journal discovered that Google was using questionable tracking methods when it bypassed the default privacy settings for Apple’s Safari browser. However, a new report on Monday reveals that Safari users were not the only ones to fall victim to Google’s “special computer code that tricks” web browsers “into letting them monitor many users.”

Google 的貼牌冰箱(Google refrigerator)According to the report, Google used a similar tactic against users of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 Web browser. After looking into their own records when the news broke last week, IE official Dean Hachamovich found that the assault on IE9 also involves the exploitation of a loophole involving cookies. Given IE9’s default setting which blocks cookies from sites that do not honor P3P technology—which communicates to Web browsers how tracking cookies are used—Google, who does not honor P3P, should have had its cookies blocked.

However, the search giant made a way. Here’s how Matt Rosoff of Business Insider explained the loophole that Google found in IE9’s privacy policy:

But instead, Google employs a loophole—instead of leaving a blank in the spot where it would deliver a P3P policy that only a browser could understand, it delivers a human-readable message saying “This is not a P3P policy!” and a link to this page explaining why Google doesn’t like P3P.

While, as I acknowledged last week, an aspect of shared responsibility could be argued regarding Google’s tracking scheme with Safari, the same argument cannot be made in this case. Unlike the default privacy settings on Safari—which were only allegedly set to prevent such tracking activity—the settings on IE9 explicitly seek to block cookies from non-P3P sites, and Google directly disregarded that policy.

That is, while Google might be able to get off on a technicality—or at least shift some of the blame to Apple—when it comes to last week’s Safari controversy, the web giant’s latest “trick” falls far more suspect. And given the increased scrutiny surrounding Google on both the consumer and regulatory levels, one can’t help but wonder what kind of benefit could possibly be worth reaping at the expense of Google’s reputation…or much worse.

NOTE: If you use Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft posted directions to prevent Google from tracking its users. Get it here.

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  • Matt

    Ask any consumer if they have set their P3P policy, and they will tell you they have no idea what that is. Ask them about cookies, and maybe 10% will have any clue what a cookie is. Saying that Google is deliberately ignoring users’ preferences by ignoring the P3P policy is insane.

    Microsoft made up this P3P policy many years ago before the Internet functioned the way it does now. Sites didn’t have widgets and iframes across domains like they do now. On the Google page you linked to, it explains exactly that.

    A real world analogy would be the following: Suppose you bought a car. It has really good MPG, leather interior, remote starter, but it also has a feature that blocks cell phones from functioning within the car when it’s running. Would you be outraged if a mobile device circumvented that feature to allow itself to function? If you chose the car because of that feature, maybe you would, but 99.99% of the time people didn’t, and wouldn’t care in the slightest. It’s the same thing. People don’t use Internet Explorer because it has this crazy P3P feature, they use it to browse the web and almost no one customizes the security settings.

    Another way to think about it: You are using a browser and loading a web page. That web page is served from Google and by using Google you are agreeing to their Privacy Policy. You can’t be outraged if that Privacy Policy says they can track you so they can continue providing their service. Don’t like Google’s practices? Don’t use their services. Simple.