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Google Inc. violated users’ privacy on Apple Inc.’s Safari Web browser,Stanford

Google Inc. violated users’ privacy on Apple Inc.’s Safari Web browser, Stanford University research found, adding to a drumbeat of criticism from consumer groups and lawmakers over how the search giant tracks people online.

Using its DoubleClick ad network, Google has been dodging a privacy setting in Safari, the primary Web browser on the iPhone, iPad and Apple computers, according to a report today by Stanford’s Security Lab and the Center for Internet and Society. The study named three other companies — Vibrant Media Inc., Media Innovation Group LLC and Point Roll Inc.

“Apple’s Safari Web browser is configured to block third- party cookies by default,” Stanford graduate student Jonath
an Mayer said in the report. “Google and Vibrant Media intentionally circumvent Safari’s privacy feature.”

Google, the world’s biggest Internet-search company, has drawn regulatory scrutiny and pressure from consumer advocates for the way it handles personal information.

In the Stanford study, Mayer said Google’s software employed cookies, or small pieces of code, that can be used to follow users’ activities on the Web. Blocking them is supposed to prevent the cookies from tracking behavior. The actions potentially affected millions of users, Mayer said. Safari is the top browser for mobile devices, with 55 percent of the market, according to January data from Net Applications.

Apple’s Response

Apple is aware that “that some third parties are circumventing Safari’s privacy features,” said Bill Evans, a spokesman for the Cupertino, California-based company. “We are working to put a stop to it,” he said.

Google has started removing the advertising cookies from Safari browsers, Rachel Whetstone, senior vice president of communications and public policy at the Mountain View, California-based company, said in an e-mailed statement.

Google said it began to use the functions in the Safari browser last year to enable its “+1” feature, which lets surfers easily identify content that interests them. Google created a temporary communication link between its servers and Safari’s, so the company could know whether a user had signed up for +1, she said.

“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,” she said. “However, the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser. ”

By Bilal

 

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