by Shane O'Neill

Google Browser Privacy Breach Secures Bad Reputation

Opinion
Feb 22, 20122 mins
BrowsersData BreachInternet

Google's recent sidestepping of browser privacy settings in Apple's Safari and Microsoft's Internet Explorer solidified its perception as a company that can't be trusted.

Does Google have any friends left?

The company has been getting dinged this week by industry analysts, privacy advocates, the government and competitors for not honoring a default privacy setting in Apple’s Safari browser and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 browser. US lawmakers have called on the FTC to investigate Google and a Safari user has also sued Google for its actions.

First reported in the Wall Street Journal, Google has been bypassing the privacy settings of millions of people using Safari on both iPhones, iPads and Mac laptops — tracking the browsing habits of users who had correctly assumed that their privacy was secure by default. Google, essentially, tricked Apple’s Safari browser into letting Google and other advertising companies monitor Apple users’ Web activity.

In reaction to WSJ story, Google went on the defensive and explained itself and its intentions. Naturally it did this after stopping the practice of bypassing privacy settings.

To be fair, Google isn’t the only company that crosses the privacy line, gets caught, plays dumb, apologizes and then stops doing it. Facebook certainly does it. Apple too.

Yet Google is the one being watched like a hawk by the federal government. There’s a case to be made that it’s simply arrogance that drives Google’s frequent run-ins with the authorities, as veteran analyst Rob Enderle writes in a recent blog post.

Microsoft, never afraid to stick it to Google whenever the opportunity presents itself, published a company blog post by IE chief Dean Hachamovitch stating the Google is doing the same kind of privacy setting bypassing in IE9 that it’s been doing in Safari, which set off a heated back-and-forth between Google and Microsoft. Google claims that it’s impractical to comply with IE’s privacy preferences because the browser’s P3P protocol is outdated and commonly ignored.

This latest saga I’m sure will calm down in the coming days. But I can’t remember a tech company pissing off so many parties at once – maybe not since Microsoft in the late ’90s.

Google’s privacy violations are particularly worrisome for an influential company that has been in business for 14 years. They should know better, but Google’s reputation as a shifty outfit being dogged by an increasingly impatient government is one thing about the company that is secure.