Google has run afoul of privacy regulations again, this time involving its breach of Apple’s Safari Internet browser to track user activity. The news first broke when the WSJ reported that Google, along with a few other advertisers, had written a code to bypass Safari’s default privacy controls, depositing cookies to track users’ browsing habits in order to deliver targeted ads.
The code used by Google to bypass default privacy settings was discovered by Standard researcher Jonathan Mayer and then separately confirmed by the WSJ through a third-party advisor, Ashkan Soltani. Following the revelation, Microsoft did their own investigation and found that Google was doing the same on Internet Explorer, which also blocks cookies by default.
Google has since removed the code in question, but not soon enough to remedy the situation. Regulators in the US and Europe have already launched investigations. The US Federal Trade Commission is looking into whether this latest misstep violates the settlement reached between Google and the US government in another privacy rumble last year.
That agreement prevents Google from misrepresenting its privacy policies and was reached after the search giant conceded that it was using deceptive tactics, violating its own privacy policies with the introduction of the now defunct Buzz social network.
Google has confirmed the launch of the investigations, responding to inquiries with the following statement:
We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. 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 personalized ads and other content. However, the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser. We will of course cooperate with any officials who have questions. But it’s important to remember that we didn’t anticipate this would happen, and we have been removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers.