No Surprise: Congress, Consumer & Privacy Groups Want Google To Explain Safari Privacy Snafu

google-g-logoFrom the you-could-see-it-coming-a-mile-away department: U.S. lawmakers, privacy watchdogs and consumer protection groups want Google to explain why it’s been bypassing user privacy settings on Apple’s Safari web browser.

The story surfaced late last night in the Wall Street Journal, and has spread quickly — not surprisingly, considering the long-running discussion about Google and privacy and, more recently, the company’s new privacy policy that’s due to take effect on March 1st.

US Congress Gets Involved

Politico is reporting this morning that US lawmakers — who’ve already been on Google’s case about the new privacy policy — want Google to explain what happened with Safari and why it’s been overriding privacy settings.

Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) told Politico that Google should come in and meet with lawmakers and that the company has “tough new questions to answer in the wake of this latest privacy flap.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) says he’s going to send Google a letter “asking them to present a complete and accurate explanation” of what’s going on in this latest episode.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) told Politico that today’s news just reinforces the need for a federal privacy bill.

“Why is anyone surprised? There are some crocodile tears shed in Congress every time something like this pops up. You’d think at some point there’d be a reality check.

“It’s not hard to figure out that unless and until Congress creates some common-sense rules for collecting, using and distributing personal information, companies will keep making up their own rules,” he continued. “Some will be good and some will be disturbing, but this is what happens when Washington doesn’t do its job.”

Consumer Watchdog, EPIC Get Involved

Consumer Watchdog and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), two groups that have long spoken out over Google’s privacy practices, have done that already today.

EPIC says that it’s sent a letter to the FTC PDF download) that accuses Google of “misrepresentation” in how it handles privacy in the safari web browser, and says,

“The fact that Google removed the evidence and made it no longer available by means of a Google search (think about that for a moment) is an admission by the company as to its malfeasance.”

Consumer Watchdog has also sent a letter to the FTC (PDF download), asking the commission to “take immediate action against Google for using unfair and deceptive practices … in the way that it has violated peoples online privacy choices and falsely advised them about how to make opt-out choices.”

Both EPIC and Consumer Watchdog are referring to the changes that Google has made to its advertising cookie opt-out page. That page previously told Safari users that the default settings already acted as an opt-out and prevented Google from tracking them. Google has now updated the page so it makes no reference to the Safari browser.

In several statements today, Google has said that the WSJ article “mischaracterizes what happened and why.” In a longer statement that’s been posted by Ars Technica and others, Google explains further:

“…the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser. We didn’t anticipate that this would happen, and we have now started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers. It’s important to stress that, just as on other browsers, these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.”

Based on the quick reaction today in Washington, it appears Google will soon have an opportunity to explain that to Congress.

Postscript: Also not surprisingly, Microsoft has weighed in on today’s news. The two companies have been waging a war of words (see related articles below) over privacy issues recently, and Microsoft is using this episode as an opportunity to promote its IE 9 browser:

Windows Internet Explorer is the browser that respects your privacy. Through unique built in features like Tracking Protection and other privacy features in IE9, you are in control of who is tracking your actions online. Not Google. Not advertisers. Just you.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Google: Privacy | Legal: Privacy | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Marketing Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • http://soft4click.blogspot.com/ CEO

    thank you very much for your informative article.
    http://soft4click.blogspot.com/

  • http://twitter.com/Xezuka Xezuka II

    Wah wah wah… learn to handle your cookies properly Safari.

  • http://twitter.com/qka qka

    Microsoft has revealed IE has the same problem.
    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ie/archive/2012/02/20/google-bypassing-user-privacy-settings.aspx

    I thought I saw a piece that FireFox to was susceptible. I won’t even guess about Chrome.

    Yeah, there are add-ons for all the popular browsers that can help stop this. Most people don’t know about them. And the the rest of us shouldn’t have to resort to them.

    Fool.

  • http://twitter.com/qka qka

    Missed the bit in this article about the original MS boast it didn’t affect them. As usual with MS, the left hand knows not what the right does.

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