Google's creepy invasion of privacy

The search engine giant owes the public an apology for secretly tracking the browsing habits of Apple customers.

By Jonathan Berr Feb 17, 2012 12:06PM
Image: Spy (© Corbis)Google (GOOG) has been nabbed red-handed violating the privacy of tens of millions of Apple (AAPL) users, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The search engine giant and some advertising agencies used a secret code to track the Web habits of users of Apple's Safari browser on iPhones and computers by bypassing its privacy settings, the newspaper reported. Safari, the most popular program for mobile surfing, is designed to block such tracking by default.

Google stopped the tracking when questioned about the practice by the Journal.

The treasure trove of information Google uncovered could allow advertisers to more precisely target their ads. That's the holy grail for marketers on the hunt for more clicks and, ultimately, more sales. But people should have the option of knowing who is using their data and why.

Google shares were down less than 1% Friday morning to $603.71.

The company, which denied any wrongdoing, has come under fire for not taking users' privacy more seriously. In October, it settled with The Federal Trade Commission after the agency said it "used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises" with its social network, Google Buzz. Google was barred from future "privacy misrepresentations" and required to enact a comprehensive privacy policy and to be subject to audits for the next 20 years. Additional violations are subject to fines of $16,000 per violation per day.

Google's response to the newest privacy scandal is unconvincing. "We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled," it told the Journal. "It's important to stress that these advertising cookies do not collect personal data."

One problem with that logic was that Apple apparently had no idea what was going on. If Google was so sure it was right, why did it hide its actions?

Apple told the Journal it was working to stop the manipulation of Safari's privacy settings.

This issue underscores the notion that no one is ever really anonymous on the Web. People who are worried about exposing their secret online lives should remember this: Odds are, somebody somewhere knows what you are doing.

-- Jonathan Berr is usually not easily creeped out. He owns no shares of the stocks listed here.
 

Tags: AAPLGOOG
24Comments
Feb 17, 2012 12:43PM
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And their motto used to be do no evil. Oh how things have changed..
Feb 17, 2012 1:55PM
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As futile as it may seem to fight these invasions of privacy, we must keep trying.  Really, really creepy.  How many sites have you cut off in order to keep privacy?  It's worth a try.
Feb 17, 2012 1:45PM
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So you think Google is going to give a FREE search engine and not expect anything in return from you. Here's a lesson: Nothing is FREE.
Feb 17, 2012 2:20PM
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It is funny that people will post there entire life on the internet and then worry about privacy about minor things.  If google changed and started to just charge for searches people would complain about that as well.  
Feb 17, 2012 3:13PM
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Agreed, Bing is preferable. Google's lifeblood is surrepitious survellance of what you do, who your are, and where you are. Their push into driverless automobiles is just the latest extension of their "We see you" philosophy. The company has never provided any evidence that it should be trusted.

 

Long before they went public, they boasted that they had a record of every search keystroke ever made from every IP address, to their site; and that they would never destroy the record.

 

"Do Evil." It's closer to their reality than "Do No Evil."

Feb 17, 2012 4:11PM
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One of our most important documents should be amended to conclude, "TO GUARANTEE LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS AND PRIVACY...."   Right?  A few years ago some tech guru flat out said that we can forget about privacy in the future. He was right. 

Feb 17, 2012 6:01PM
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Why are you upset at Google? I'm more pissed off at my Senators and Congresspeople for allowing this to be legal in the first place. You should focus more on your politicians allowing themselves to be whores to Corporations. Hopefully America might learn the lesson that "People of Wealth" usually are the ones who make it legal for this type of corporate behavior in the first place. Clean your own home, before you go throwing stones at someone else's windows.
Feb 17, 2012 5:40PM
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Check My Spelling wrote: Can anyone see that this 'story' amounts to one business rival attacking another? They use their 'credibility' as a 'News Organization' to attack GOOGLE at least twice a month.MSN has contracts with BING, which is why half of their stories contain 'BING' search links. Stating that GOOGLE is a competitor of a company that MSN does business with would have been the ethical thing to do here-seriously people this is an advertisement hidden as 'news.'

 

Very good point! I agree on many levels. I noticed you had some "thumbs down" but I'm with ya on this. MSN/BING are pretty much one in the same. How many problems have occured from privacy situations caused by MSN and Bing?? and yet they nip at the heels of Google. LOL! I spent 30 years in public relations, marketing and advertising...and yes, it is a nasty game played out strategically. 

Same ol' thing...big bad greedy organizations that lack integrity and the future development of mankind.

Feb 17, 2012 6:43PM
Feb 17, 2012 5:58PM
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Oregon Joe-

 

I appreciate the feedback. I really don't pay too much attention to the likes or dislikes,but I stand by what I posted-I mean if one just looks to the right of THIS ARTICLE and scrolls down they will find 'MORE FROM BING' linked directly to this article.I also agree with you that MSN/BING have had personal privacy issues as well, so has FACEBOOK, and even APPLE, a company listed in this article.I just think we should all be weary when we think we are reading objective news, when we are really reading an advertised 'tie in.'

Feb 17, 2012 5:15PM
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Just a quick after thought, after the Towers went down, the Bush government used every possible venue at their disposal, including illegal wiretaps, to find out everything about everyone.  So, if Google is creepy, just imagine how much our Government knows about you.
Feb 17, 2012 5:42PM
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This is a perfect example of corporations' quest for power, their greed (advertising dollars) dishonesty and total disregard for the customers they are supposedly providing services to.  Remember, just because a company is run by "silicon valley" types doesn't make it any better than any other Wall Street company.
Feb 17, 2012 6:31PM
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Apparently being a friend of Obama means you are allowed to operate above the law.

First of all, the president doesn't set the fines per violation, and NEVER HAS.I didn't read ANYTHING about Obama in this statement. But I guess I see your point-I mean Dick Cheney's relationship with Haliburton certainly allowed THEM to operate 'above the law' in a manner that would make this issue look juvenile in comparison.

Feb 17, 2012 8:28PM
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Where Does the Greed And The Avarice End?

 

Multi-billionaires like Sergie Brin, Larry Paige and Eric Schmidt at Google seem to never be satisfied ... when is enough enough? Everyone should know damn well that they ordered their high tech gurus to the task of invading the surfing protocols of Apple users to build a database of their rival's customers in order to mine and sell their consumer information at huge profit. One thing is for sure, we certainly don't have to worry about the Federal Government being the only 'Big Brother' on the block ... they are as close at hand as your 'favorite' search engine conglomerate. As in the sage Latin mantra ... "Caveat Emptor" ... Let the buyer beware!

 

Peace to all

Feb 17, 2012 7:51PM
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Do any of you have *any* idea how long tracking has been going on?

 

Apparently not.

Feb 17, 2012 2:31PM
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Google sucks. Stop using it and switch to Bing. I did over a year ago and it's much less "pushy".
Feb 17, 2012 6:21PM
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"Google was barred from future "privacy misrepresentations" and required to enact a comprehensive privacy policy and to be subject to audits for the next 20 years. Additional violations are subject to fines of $16,000 per violation per day."

It would appear that they are subject to a significant fine, but more importantly, shouldn't there be even greater penalties, since it seems that over and over again Google has no respect for the law?  The CEO is involved with allowing illegal advertising for foreign drugs and apparently should be indicted, but nothing seems to stop them from violating the law at will. 

Apparently being a friend of Obama means you are allowed to operate above the law.

Feb 17, 2012 6:50PM
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What "consent agreement"? I never saw where Goog entered into a Consent Agreement with the Feds. What are the terms of the Agreement? Anybody know? Does it mandate that Goog cant collect personal information without explicit user agreement or what? What govt agency made the agreement and when?
Feb 17, 2012 3:55PM
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Can anyone see that this 'story' amounts to one business rival attacking another?  They use their 'credibility' as a 'News Organization' to attack GOOGLE at least twice a month.MSN has contracts with BING, which is why half of their stories contain 'BING' search links. Stating that GOOGLE is a competitor of a company that MSN does business with would have been the ethical thing to do here-seriously people this is an advertisement hidden as 'news.'
Feb 17, 2012 5:07PM
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Jonathan, it seems that just like most things in life, we all have a choice.  No one says you have to put private information on Facebook or whatever social network you use.  No one says you have to buy anything over the internet.  Google is an indivdual choice.  If you are surprised or shocked or creeped out by finding out that EVERYONE on the internet is trying to make a buck, just like everyone in in the real world is, then DUH, where have you been.  Yeah, the internet can bite you big time if you don't choose to be wary of it.  If you are afraid your privacy is being invaded, get off line.  I don't want anyone or anything to try to censor what I read, watch, listen to, or Google.  
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