Google: Microsoft grandstanding over web privacy

Google has fired back at Microsoft over claims the search company bypasses privacy systems in Internet Explorer, arguing that its rival's P3P policies are "widely non-operational" and incompatible with today's web use. Microsoft had suggested that Google did not observe the so-called "self-declaration protocol", or P3P, which demands sites present a machine-readable version of their privacy practices. However, in a statement by senior VP of communications and policy, Rachel Whetstone, Google says Microsoft's system is outdated and over-involved, and more importantly breaks features like the Facebook "Like" button.

"Newer cookie-based features are broken by the Microsoft implementation in IE.  These include things like Facebook "Like" buttons, the ability to sign-in to websites using your Google account, and hundreds more modern web services. It is well known that it is impractical to comply with Microsoft's request while providing this web functionality" Rachel Whetstone, senior VP of communications and policy, Google

Microsoft's P3P system, Whetstone writes, was launched in 2002 and is, by now, hopelessly outdated. She points to a 2010 research report that, at the time, indicated more than 11,000 sites were not complying with P3P policies, and argues that rival browser privacy systems are far more effective.

"Browsers like Chrome, Firefox and Safari have simpler security settings" Whetstone says. "Instead of checking a site's compact policy, these browsers simply let people choose to block all cookies, block only third-party cookies or allow all cookies."

The Microsoft allegations come hot on the heels of complaints around how Google and other sites handle privacy settings in Apple's Safari browser, both on iOS devices and on the desktop. Google was found to be using a workaround system to track surfers, even when they had ostensibly disabled cookies and the like.

Nonetheless, Google seems to be all but outright saying that Microsoft is jumping on the bandwagon. "P3P adoption has not taken off" Whetstone concludes, "the reality is that consumers don't, by and large, use the P3P framework to make decisions about personal information disclosure."