Google Skirted Privacy Settings, Tracked iPhones

Ducked Safari's default block on user tracking

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 17, 2012 7:27 AM CST | Updated Feb 17, 2012 7:57 AM CST

(Newser) – Google has been quietly using computer code to get around default privacy settings on Apple's Safari browser—both on iPhones and computers. Safari automatically prevents tracking techniques that other browsers allow, including the use of cookies. But Google coding "tricks" Safari into allowing the tracking, the Wall Street Journal reports. Here's how: Safari OKs tracking in one case—when a person needs to interact with a site to, for instance, submit a form. Google placed code in some of its ads that fooled Safari into thinking the user was submitting a form to Google—an invisible one. And, ta-da, Google would get the OK to install a cookie.

The Journal found that ads on more than 20 of the top 100 websites, including YouTube, ehow.com, and AOL.com, placed the code on users' computers or iPhones—but there's no indication the sites themselves were aware of it. After the tracking technique went live, it let Google follow user activity on most websites. After the Journal contacted Google, the search giant disabled the code; three other online advertisers were also using the "workaround." Google said the Journal "mischaracterizes what happened and why. We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled," and the cookies don't "collect personal information."

The iPhone 4S.
The iPhone 4S.   (Getty Images)
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