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2/17/2012
05:15 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Google's Privacy Invasion: It's Your Fault

If we really wanted privacy, we would turn off JavaScript, block ads, and browse in privacy mode through an anonymous proxy. But we would rather have free services.

Google stepped in it, again. The company was caught bypassing the privacy settings of those using Apple's Safari Web browser, which unlike other major browsers blocks third-party cookies by default. Google, like just about every other online company, relies on cookie files to improve ad relevancy, to identify users, and to deliver online services.

The Wall Street Journal, which Friday broke the story as part of its ongoing investigation into online privacy, reports that Google, along with at least three other advertising companies--Vibrant Media, WPP PLC's Media Innovation Group, and Gannett's PointRoll--"exploited a loophole in the browser's privacy settings" to place a cookie file on OS X and iOS devices such as iPhones using Safari.

The incident has prompted Consumer Watchdog, a consumer advocacy group critical of Google's privacy practices, to call for intervention from the Federal Trade Commission. Another consumer advocacy group, the American Consumer Institute, said, "Google’s willful disregard for the privacy choices of consumers and the privacy policies of Apple is a new low even for Google."

Google insists the Wall Street Journal report "mischaracterizes what happened and why." The company says it "used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled" and that it did not collect personal information.

[ Google has been under fire for its planned privacy policy change. Read Google Rejects EU Request On Privacy Policy Consolidation. ]

Google hasn't helped its case by ceasing to use the HTML code that overrode Safari's default behavior. That looks like an admission of guilt. But let's step back for a moment and examine the situation.

The American Consumer Institute's contention Google willfully disregarded "the privacy choices of consumers and the privacy policies of Apple" isn't accurate.

Google disregarded the privacy choices of Apple, which chooses to block third-party cookies by default in its browser. And Google has nothing to do with Apple's privacy policies, which describe how Apple handles customer data.

Google argues that it manipulated Safari to resolve contradictory browser settings. Safari blocks third-party cookies by default. At the same time, Apple has implemented exceptions to Safari's third-party cookie blocking to allow social features like the +1 button to function.

Rachel Whetstone, SVP of communications and public policy, said in a statement that Google deployed its workaround code "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."

The fact that other Google cookies got set, Google insists, was accidental. "The Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser," Whetstone explained. "We didn't anticipate that this would happen, and we have now started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers. It's important to stress that, just as on other browsers, these advertising cookies do not collect personal information."

Were it not for the fact that Google's advertising cookie opt-out help page stated explicitly that Safari's default setting was the functional equivalent of opting out, Google's explanation might suffice.

But rewind now to the July 2011 release of OS X Lion. With Lion came Safari 5.1, which included for the first time third-party cookie blocking by default.

Could Apple's decision to block third-party cookies by default have been influenced by its competition with Google, a company that depends on advertising and cookies?

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Tom LaSusa
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Tom LaSusa,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/12/2012 | 3:32:39 PM
re: Google's Privacy Invasion: It's Your Fault
Folks,

A friendly reminder that you are encouraged to be as vocal and opinionated as you want to be, so long as you do so in a respectful manner. Insulting/derogatory/offensive language will not be tolerated. Usage of such dialogue can result in your comment being edited or removed -- and potentially having your profile blocked.

Thanks
Tom LaSusa
Community Manager
duke
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duke,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/12/2012 | 12:21:39 PM
re: Google's Privacy Invasion: It's Your Fault
Thomas Claburn is a douchebag. His "blame the victim" mentality is appalling and insulting. Giving away something for free does not allow ANYBODY, let alone a juggernaut like Google to invade OUR privacy. He also blames the victim for accepting TOS contracts (fine print), which are usually written in gobbledygook or in a way that most laymen would not understand. Using Tom Claburn's logic, that would actually be the consumers' fault for being retarded (basically what Claburn thinks of everybody) and not the company's fault for invading your privacy. To give an example of what Claburn is trying to say, if you were to use the telephone and it happened to be tapped, it would be YOUR fault for using it and not the telephone companies/government's fault. He also mentions in the article that there is not a clear consensus on what the definition of privacy is. How convenient! If the word privacy doesn't even mean anything, then how can you invade it? Funny, after a quick scan of the dictionary, privacy is defined as such: "being free from being observed". Now, that seems like a definition that we all can accept "to our collective satisfaction". Again and not surprisingly, Claburn uses an illogical argument to justify an invasion of privacy. Last, but not least, Claburn implies that Google's privacy invasion is necessary for the consumer to keep getting free Google. Sorry, but privacy does not cost money - it is a fundamental human right (unless you are a tyrant). Claburn uses the black and white argument that it's either no privacy and free Google, or privacy and no free Google. If that were true, it doesn't change the fact that Google is invading YOUR privacy to make a quick buck (and who knows what else they're up to) when they could still make billions of dollars doing things that don't require invading the consumers' privacy. Good to know that Claburn puts corporation above consumer.
jdoncaster570
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jdoncaster570,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/21/2012 | 5:39:18 PM
re: Google's Privacy Invasion: It's Your Fault
Funny.. I have Do not track Plus on my browser and this information Week page shows 20 tracking devices (cookies) .. the highest I have seen on any one page... glass houses and all...
Michael_
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Michael_,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/20/2012 | 10:10:34 PM
re: Google's Privacy Invasion: It's Your Fault
Who's fault is it that you have come to rely on Google for just about everything? It's your own fault. "Google baited with a free service". You mean "I took advantage of a free service and now I'm complaining they want to run it the way they want to run it". It's called advertising and it's been around for quite a while now.

How many wealthy senior citizens do you think depend on Google's free services? Go tell them they can't um-encumber themselves from Google's influence. Get ready to be laughed at and called a fool.

"Trying to get your old emails back that are archived on Google not so easy." Really? How about taking two seconds to actually figure it out. http://lmgtfy.com/?q=download+... Since you are too lazy to search on your own, I will help you out even more, click on the very first link.

Again, who's fault is it that you are ignorant or too lazy to figure out how to do something or use the tools that you use? It took me all of less than a minute to find out how to do what you consider "not so easy". Is it Google's fault or the fault of anybody else that you are ignorant or lazy? (I could have used any search engine to figure this out btw). You just prove my point even more. People are either too lazy or ignorant to figure out how to use the tools they use. It's not judgemental like DAGOSTA000 states, it's pointing out the facts, big difference.

Would you give your 16 old kid a new 100k Harley Davidson Motorcycle and tell him to go use it when they don't know anything about driving a motorcycle? With your logic, the kid should already know how to use/drive a motorcycle from the start, and if he doesn't it's Harley Davidson's fault if anything bad happens huh?

"There's a sucker born every minute". Which category do you fit in? Don't answer that, I think we all know.
TuleeGirl
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TuleeGirl,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/20/2012 | 5:42:07 AM
re: Google's Privacy Invasion: It's Your Fault
I hate being tracked by Google with their "above the rest" attitude. I thought they were 'special' when it came to using users personal information. In the end it's every man for him self. Which translates to every search engine will track you and keep cookies stored on your computer so they can market products that you seem to be interested in. Which is fine because I regularly delete them. I delete all the L.S.O.'s as well. I think those are worse. If not for some research I wouldn't even know about the L.S.O's. I've disabled my updates with Adobe so I won't have to worry about some new technology development that I'll have to keep up with in order to maintain my privacy. And I thought the Patriot Act was bad!
Eschewing Obfuscation
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Eschewing Obfuscation,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/20/2012 | 4:30:47 AM
re: Google's Privacy Invasion: It's Your Fault
How about rather than hoping for Google to offer a paid membership option we hope for transparent disclosure and honesty? Privacy hawks aside, Google's shareholders have a right to accurate information regarding Google's solicitation, use of, and strategies for gaining personal information. You can go back and forth about Safari settings and Google opt-outs all day, but that's disingenuous. Yes, every aspect of 'free' web services hinges on user data. But when a publicly traded company purports to be above all of that and subscribe to the idea of 'don't be evil'', any failure to live up to that standard is an ethical failure to live up to stockholder expectations.

In terms of whether or not people care about privacy, and where blame rightfully belongs, the issue breaks in much the same way. If Google didn't make such a large issue of their trustworthiness and adherence to privacy standards, then yes, average internet users would be to blame for sacrificing their own privacy. BUT Google advertises itself as being above such shenanigans. This is not a 'blame the dumb users, they don't know what they're doing' issue. This is a clear issue of bait and switch. Google draws in users with promises of ethical behavior, responsible usage of data, and respecting privacy. If it is not prepared to live up to those promises, regardless of why, it should not make them; When it fails to live up to its own promises, its users should rightfully throw a fit and demand change.

Don't blame users for expecting companies to act as advertised. Blame companies for making false promises.
Johnnythegeek
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Johnnythegeek,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/20/2012 | 4:11:14 AM
re: Google's Privacy Invasion: It's Your Fault
Their are ways to access the web more privately. But most user I am sure do not take advantage of it. We choose to demand free sites and in the end the devil is marketing tracking cookies. Their are some sites I prefer have less ads such as Hotmail. I hate those right side bar ads. So now I pay a little every year to make them go away. Their are some free ways such as AdBlock and they work well. But for me the most annoying was pop ups and almost any browser blocks those if you want. Otherwise I really do not care so much about ads. Their are ads everywhere in life. So why should we think the internet would be any different?
Howt
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Howt,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/19/2012 | 10:39:32 PM
re: Google's Privacy Invasion: It's Your Fault
By my own choice, I have chosen to exchange personal data for Google services. That is, when they are dealing off the top of the deck. In this instance, their errant actions were purposeful and hopefully will be found to be criminal.

More concerning is that Google is taking the sole hit. Why no mention of the other three advertising entities? Often, that which goes unspoken tells most.

For example, WPP is a holding company which owns many of the world's largest advertising firms. Is InformationWeek holding them to account? Does InformationWeek receive advertising revenue from WPP or its subsidiaries? Both advertising and journalism need to adhere to ethical practices.

There's a lot of shame to go around here and InformationWeek itself remains in question.
Tom Mariner
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Tom Mariner,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/19/2012 | 9:09:39 PM
re: Google's Privacy Invasion: It's Your Fault
More than my fault -- I encourage it! I like it when I browse for something and everything else I do for a while gives me suggestions on alternate products or where I can get it for less! Yeah, I know , heresy in a world of ultraprivacy. Wait, it gets worse -- in an age where a hospital can get fined $50,000 per name for even the hint of a leak, I would rather have a health professional find out everything that has happened to me so they can help me get better faster. There, I've said it!

If I get these benefits and the icing on the cake is that it lets me get all this great stuff on the Internet for free, get to the bad part. Granted, I am way beyond the age of posting revealing pictures or text of stupid acts on a social site, but am worried that our young are going to find themselves denied something later because of youthful indiscretion.

And here's a really bad part -- we elect our public officials based not on how good they would be at the job, but on who has done less stuff we can find out about. I'm not real happy about he "National Enquirer" method of getting a President -- or Town Supervisor, but Americans seem adverse to actually investigating, so maybe the Internet watching those folks is not good for all of us.
Steven Noyes
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Steven Noyes,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/19/2012 | 7:00:55 PM
re: Google's Privacy Invasion: It's Your Fault
Sadly, Google's "Do no evil" went out of the door with their Google Books project. From that point on, it has been a steady down hill slide for them where the only thing they see in getting more and more information tied into their advertising networks regardless of who actually owns that information/data/IP.

So don't ever anticipate the "Don't be evil" to every be made "official". It was lost long ago:-(
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