Google caught spying on Safari users

It doesn’t look like a good 2012 for Internet users. Just a week back it was Path that was caught for ‘uploading user’ data on their servers,  quickly opened an ugly can of worms in the Internet world. Path’s revelation came as quite a shocker, followed by apps like Instagram, clarifying on how they were appropriating user data.

Now it seems that Google and other advertising companies are guilty of trespassing on the web-browsing habits of millions of people who use Apple’s popular internet browser Safari, according to a Wall Street Journal report. This latest report which comes as Google plans to make major policy changes across all of its products — a move that has left many concerned.

According to the WSJ report, the companies (Google and other advertising firms) used a special computer code that tricks Apple’s Safari Web-browsing software into letting them monitor many users, something that browser, is actually designed to block.

The code was activated when users with a Google plus profile clicked +1— the Google equivalent of an F-like — on an advertisement, thus ensuring that cookies were sent, something that Safari would have normally blocked.

The report states that
The Google code was spotted by Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer and independently confirmed by a technical adviser to the Journal, Ashkan Soltani, who found that ads on 22 of the top 100 websites installed the Google tracking code on a test computer, and ads on 23 sites installed it on an iPhone browser.

Basically the code allowed more cookies, which are perfectly legitimate mode of getting user information, to find the user who was accessing the Web via Safari.

Google has however defended itself against the Journal report. In an official statement, the company 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.”

Google’s self defense doesn’t really add much to the company’s over-all image which has taken quite a beating thanks to some recent scandals. Most prominent was perhaps the incident in Kenya where Google used Kenyan business directory Mocality‘s data to increase their own clients in the region. Google later apologised for the incident.

For now it’s seem that Google’s older motto, ‘Don’t be evil’ is clearly forgotten.’ To read the complete Safari story click here.

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