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Many were quick to complain when the Wall Street Journal revealed Friday that Google was bypassing privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser. Lawmakers even asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. Google defended itself claiming it was unintentional and limited to Safari. Now it turns out the Safari browser wasn’t the only one affected by this type of action.
“When the IE team heard that Google had bypassed user privacy settings on Safari, we asked ourselves a simple question: is Google circumventing the privacy preferences of Internet Explorer users too?” wrote Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president of Internet Explorer, in a blog post. “We’ve discovered the answer is yes: Google is employing similar methods to get around the default privacy protections in IE and track IE users with cookies.”
Although IE and Safari use different systems, the effect is essentially the same as Google effectively bypasses privacy settings in order to deliver third-party tracking cookies. As Ars Technica explains, IE uses a technology that blocks third-party cookies unless they include a code known as P3P indicating they won’t be used for tracking. Instead of the P3P code Google allegedly sends a text that reads, “This is not a P3P policy.”
“Like the Safari snafu, this is pretty small time stuff as far as privacy goes,” notes Business Insider. “But still, it’s another dumb blunder from a company that is increasingly being watched by government regulators and competitors very, very closely.”
Google is hardly alone in this type of practice, notes Lorrie Faith Cranor, a privacy expert at Carnegie Mellon University. In a blog post written on Saturday that previewed just the type of problem Microsoft described Monday, Cranor says that numerous companies, including Facebook, “have discovered that they can lie” in their P3P policies “and nobody bothers to do anything about it.”