Report: Google bypassed iPhone privacy settings to track web users
Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and other digital advertisers employed special code to bypass user privacy settings across millions of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhones and desktop computers running the Safari web browser, The Wall Street Journal reports.
According to the Journal, Google and ad firms Vibrant Media, PointRoll and WPP's Media Innovation Group leveraged code that essentially tricks Safari (the most widely used mobile browser) into letting them monitor user behaviors despite Safari default settings designed to block such tracking. Stanford University researcher Jonathan Mayer first identified the code, which was subsequently confirmed by technical advisor Ashkan Soltani--in tests, Soltani determined that ads on 22 of the top 100 websites installed the Google tracking code on the desktop, and ads on 23 sites installed it on the iPhone.
Google has since disabled the code. "The Journal mischaracterizes what happened and why," Google said in a statement. "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." Google adds that all cookies were built to expire within 12 to 24 hours.
Apple told the Journal it is "working to put a stop" to code that circumvents Safari privacy settings.
But consumers who log into Google services won't be able to opt out of the revamped guidelines, which has critics crying foul. "Google's new privacy announcement is frustrating and a little frightening," Common Sense Media chief executive James Steyer told The Washington Post. "Even if the company believes that tracking users across all platforms improves their services, consumers should still have the option to opt out--especially the kids and teens who are avid users of YouTube, Gmail and Google Search."
Chavez explains that Google is striving to make its privacy policies simpler and more accessible to users, changes lawmakers and regulators have requested. "We're still keeping your private information private--we're not changing the visibility of any information you have stored with Google," Chavez writes on the Google Public Policy Blog. "We're still allowing you to do searches, watch videos on YouTube, get driving directions on Google Maps and perform other tasks without signing into a Google Account. We're still offering you choice and control through privacy tools like Google Dashboard and Ads Preferences Manager that help you understand and manage your data. We still won't sell your personal information to advertisers. We're still offering data liberation if you'd prefer to close your Google Account and take your data elsewhere."
- read this Wall Street Journal article
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