RSS
Google spies on iPhone users: Should the feds clamp down?
The search giant deployed a special code to bypass Apple's privacy settings — and track millions of users' surfing habits
Thanks to a code provided by Google, Safari users on iPhones and desktops were tracked by third-party advertisers.
Thanks to a code provided by Google, Safari users on iPhones and desktops were tracked by third-party advertisers.
Francis Dean/Corbis
A

pple's Safari browser is designed to shield users from tracking by advertisers. This apparently didn't sit well with Google, which decided to give Safari's privacy settings the runaround, according to The Wall Street Journal. As a result, Safari users were tracked without their permission, on both their mobile devices and desktops. When the news got out, Google quickly shut down the code, and stressed that the tracking software — known as cookies — did not appropriate any personal information. But lawmakers are calling for an investigation into the incident, the latest in a slew of privacy controversies for the company. Should the government get tougher on Google?

Yes. Google broke the law — and it's all because of Facebook: Google "has now started to violate the law, and certainly to undermine the trust that the company depends on," says Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing. Why? Because Google is experiencing an "enormous internal urgency" to spread the use of Google Plus, its social-networking component. It bypassed Safari's privacy settings to place a "+1" icon next to ads, just like Facebook's "like" function. It's time for Google quit the invasive tactics and "slow its full-court press" on Google Plus. 
"WSJ: Google caught circumventing iPhone security, tracking users who opted out of third-party cookies"

Google claims it was an accident — but that's what it always says: Google claims that it was merely trying to enhance the experience of Google users on Safari, and that it did not intend to bypass privacy settings, says Ian Paul at PCWorld. But haven't we heard that before? "Every time Google is found to be up to no good, the company uses virtually the same excuse: 'Oops, sorry, that was a mistake, we didn't know we were doing that.'" And if Google simply wanted to improve Safari's "functionality," there was no need to "deploy an invisible method beyond the control of the user."
"Will the FTC investigate Google's Safari gaffe?"

People, relax. You're being tracked whether you like it or not: Did Google "screw up by using underhanded tactics?" asks Jared Newman at TIME. Sure, but as far as privacy violations are concerned, "I rank that pretty low on the list of offenses." The truth is that "data mining is the norm," and the result of Google's behavior — more targeted advertising — "is fairly innocuous." Unless you "take a dozen precautions, odds are that marketing companies already know plenty about you."
"Google's Safari privacy snafu: Just not feeling the outrage"

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week