Is Google Circumventing Do Not Track On Purpose or On Accident? You Decide

by in Uncategorized

Tags: Do Not TrackGoogleSecurityWebsites

In case you aren’t aware, there is unresolved legislation in the US Congress that, ideally, forces major Internet advertisers (read – the ones that have something to lose if they disobey federal laws) to comply with a “Do Not Track” setting on browsers. In short, the legislation says that browsers can feature a tick-mark on their browser that allows people to opt out of ad tracking, and sites like Google, DoubleClick, and other major ad networks have to respect this.

The measure is widely, widely supported by Americans. According to research completed by privacyrights.org,

“Privacy advocates worry that as more and more data is compiled about us — without our knowledge or active consent — it will be combined to reveal a detailed profile, even our actual identities. This data is often collected to market goods and services to us, encouraging us to buy them. There are a number of companies that specialize in targeted online advertising called “behavioral marketing.” Companies say consumers benefit by being exposed to more targeted advertising and that online merchants can make more money more efficiently by targeting the right shoppers.”

Why, then, is “Don’t Be Evil” corporation Google willfully circumventing the “Do Not Track Me” applications and extensions that currently exist for FireFox and Safari? I won’t even start to suggest that they support such a feature on Chrome, as they can do what they want with their own browser, but when these features are requested by the public, implemented on the tech-side for easy use, and then willfully circumvented by Google, one might suspect that they are, in fact, pulling the wool over our collective eyes about their true nature.

(I, for one, welcome our new Google overlords. And if I disappear one day, you’ll know why.)

One thing is for certain: Until the US Congress passes Do Not Track and thereafter threatens Google with fines for non-compliance, Google will NOT sacrifice their profits, even amongst legitimate civil concern.

Public Statements Made By Google

The largest problem Google faces at this point is the two-faced nature of their public statements regarding Do Not Track.

On Google’s “Advertising Cookie Opt-Out Plugin” page, Google publishes the opt-out procedure that it agrees to follow for each individual browser. For Safari, they clearly state “While we don’t yet have a Safari version of the Google advertising cookie opt-out plugin, Safari is set by default to block all third-party cookies.” Unfortunately, according to research conducted by Jonathan Mayer, a Stanford graduate student, this is simply not true. The Wall Street Journal published an article on the topic, stating “that ads on 22 of the top 100 websites installed the Google tracking code on a test computer, and ads on 23 sites installed it on an iPhone browser.” What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. While Google states that Safari “automatically disables” this tracking, it seems that it only disables active tracking, and certain forms of passive tracking are still allowed, and shared, by default on Safari.

The EFF publishes an open letter to Google, saying, “It’s Time for Google to Make Amends.”

Since a lot of people rely on Safari to browse the web, including almost all iPhone users who have few other options, it seems like Apple should step forward and take some blame for this too, as this kind of tracking -could- be blocked at the browser level with a better system for managing cookies.

Sources

  1. http://www.w3.org/2011/tracking-protection/
  2. http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs23-shopping.htm
  3. http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10001424052970204880404577225380456599176-lMyQjAxMTAyMDEwNjExNDYyWj.html?mod=wsj_share_email#articleTabs%3Darticle
  4. https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/02/time-make-amends-google-circumvents-privacy-settings-safari-users