U.S. Congressmen have asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into whether Google violated its consent degree by using ad cookies to surreptitiously track Web surfers on Apple's Safari browser.
have taken an interest in Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) cookie tracking on Apple's
(NASDAQ:AAPL) Safari Web browser, the second time within a month that U.S.
politicians have questioned the search engine giant over its approach to user
Google and a
few other advertising companies have secretly tracked the Web-browsing habits
of millions of people using Apple's Mac computers, iPhones and iPad tablets.
Apple's Safari browser is designed to prevent such monitoring to preserve user
privacy, but Google and others have figured out a way to trick the browser into
allowing the tracking via advertising cookies.
said the tracking was inadvertent and that the ad cookies did not collect
personal information, disabled its code Feb. 16 after being contacted by The Wall Street Journal
, which first
learned of the code from Jonathan Mayer, a
graduate student at Stanford University
The issue came
to light three weeks after U.S. senators
about Google's forthcoming privacy-policy changes, in
which the company is lumping privacy rules for 60 products under one umbrella
policy, and enabling those Web services to share data. Google was very
forthcoming about these changes.
That was not
the case in this Safari instance. As a result, Congressmen Edward J. Markey
(D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), co-chairmen of the bipartisan Congressional
Privacy Caucus, and Cliff Sterns (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee on
oversight and investigations, have asked the Federal Trade Commission if this
browser issue violates Google's consent agreement not to misrepresent how and
why it collects user information.
practices could have a wide sweeping impact because Safari is a major Web
browser used by millions of Americans," wrote
Reps. Markey, Barton and Stearns to the FTC.
"As members of the
Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, we are interested in any actions the
FTC has taken or plans to take to investigate whether Google has violated the
terms of its consent agreement."
that consent agreement with the FTC last year to settle privacy-infringement
concerns over its now-defunct Google Buzz social service. The company could
incur fines of $16,000 per violation per day.
happened to draw the attention of the Congressmen, according to the Journal
. Google and online ad providers
Vibrant Media, WPP's Media Innovation Group and Gannett's PointRoll essentially
exploited a loophole in Safari's privacy settings that let them place a cookie
on a user's iPhone, iPad or Mac.