PR Log - Feb 28, 2012 - A code loophole appears to exist in the Safari browser because Apple automatically blocks third party cookies by default – and Google along with several other advertisers have been caught out by a researcher at Stanton who broke the story to the Wall Street Journal.
Jonathan Mayer discovered that Google was making use of iframes, an invisible container that allows content from one website to be embedded within another. Through the iframe, Google was able to receive data about whether an individual was using the Safari browser and insert an invisible form into the container. This was then submitted by Google to Safari, which was fooled into thinking the user had submitted the form and allowed cookies. The user knew nothing about this and assumed their privacy settings were as stringent as they had set them.
The code Google placed into the iframes were originally designed to allow features such as “Like” and "+1" buttons to function when the user was logged in to Google services. However, it seems that the cookie was placed even when the user was not logged in despite the cookie privacy settings at their highest, and Google among others have exploited it for their advertisers. Even the advertisers were able to set their own cookies as a result.
Rachel Whetstone, Senior Vice President, Communications and Public Policy at Google, said: “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.
“We didn’t anticipate that this would happen. It’s important to stress that, just as on other browsers, these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.”
A spokesperson for SEO CompanySachaMango Media, said: “This revelation from the Wall Street Journal explains what many users of Safari browsers have been seeing for some time - conspicuously accurate advertising based on the sites they visit even though they have the highest privacy settings.
“While it is likely that Google came upon this by accident, it set out to capitalise on it for its advertisers rather than deal with it in an ethical way, and it should have to face the consequences. This has now cast serious doubt on Google’s repeated assurances that it is not engaged in Big Brother monitoring techniques.”
The Web Design spokesperson also commented by saying; “Despite the size of Google and the amount of intelligence housed within its walls, it’s struggling to see that people have digital rights and that trampling on them is not ethical and could be illegal. No-one from Google has yet issued an apology for what its done, simply issued a somewhat exasperated statement with a logical explanation that insinuates we’re all being too sensitive about something quite small.
“The key to whether a company is ethical is what it does when no-one is watching. And now we know what Google does! Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”
"The US firm, Consumer Watchdog, has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about Google’s unfair and deceptive actions and asking for immediate action against the company." - - -
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