Google and other companies have overridden the iPhone‘s privacy settings to monitor users’ web-browsing habits, according to a report.
The Wall Street Journal found that Google was using a “special computer code” that tricked Apple’s Safari browser into tracking users’ behaviors. Safari has built-in protections against such tracking.
The report, which was based on an observation by Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer and confirmed by the WSJ‘s technical advisor, Ashkan Soltani, prompted Google to disable its code. Soltani found that 23 of the top 100 websites installed Google’s tracking code on Safari.
In addition to Google, Vibrant media, Media Innovation Group and PointRoll were found to be using “similar techniques,” according to the report.
In response to the article, Rachel Whetstone, senior vice president, communications and public policy, released the following statement:
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.
To enable these features, we created a temporary communication link between Safari browsers and Google’s servers, so that we could ascertain whether Safari users were also signed into Google, and had opted for this type of personalization. But we designed this so that the information passing between the user’s Safari browser and Google’s servers was anonymous–effectively creating a barrier between their personal information and the web content they browse.
However, the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser. 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.