February 21, 2012
Internet Explorer Users Also Victims Of Google’s Snooping
Microsoft reports that Apple isn't the only company that has fallen victim to Google's sneaky way of getting past privacy protections.
The company said that Google is exploiting the way Microsoft's Internet Explorer works, enabling the company to get past the browser's privacy policies.
Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president for Internet Explorer, said in a blog post that the browser blocks third-party cookies by default, unless a site presents to the browser a P3P Compact Policy Statement describing how the site will use the cookie, pledging not to track the user.
The P3P is a protocol that websites use in order to disclose details in a standard format about how they plan to use information collected from users.
"Technically, Google utilizes a nuance in the P3P specification that has the effect of bypassing user preferences about cookies," Hachamovitch wrote. "Google's P3P policy is actually a statement that it is not a P3P policy. It's intended for humans to read even though P3P policies are designed for browsers to 'read'," Hachamovitch wrote.
He said Google bypasses the cookie protection and enables its third-party cookies to be allowed rather than blocked.
The Wall Street Journal originally reported that Google was bypassing Apple's Safari Web browser's privacy settings as well.
Ashkan Soltani and Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer found that ads on 22 of the top 100 websites installed a Google tracking code on a test computer, and ads on 23 sites installed it on an iPhone browser.
This enables Google to track across the vast majority of websites once the coding was active.
"The Journal mischaracterizes what happened and why," Google said in a statement after the report came out. "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."
An Apple official said the company was working to try and put a stop to the circumvention of Safari privacy settings.
Hachamovitch said Microsoft has asked Google to honor P3P activity settings for users of all browsers.
He also said that this issue does not impact users of a new privacy feature called Tracking Protection in Internet Explorer 9.
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