Google is facing investigation by U.S. and European Union regulators over the use of advertising cookies in Apple's Safari browser.
Google is under investigation by regulators in both the
United States and European Union, according to sources speaking to The
Wall Street Journal
Specifically, those regulators are investigating how Google
sidestepped privacy settings of the Safari Web browser. Its important to
remember that we didnt anticipate this would happen, a Google spokesperson
told the Journal, and we have been removing these advertising cookies from
Safari browsers. Investigating bodies apparently include the Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) and the French Commission Nationale de linformatique et des
Libertes (CNIL), each of which have the power to level fines and other penalties
The public-interest group Consumer Watchdog applauded the potential investigation in a March 16 statement. "Google has more information about Internet users than any company in the world, and uses that information to develop detailed profiles and market consumers to advertisers," Carmen Balber, the organization's Washington, D.C., director, wrote in that statement. "The Internet giant should not get away with lying to people about how to prevent their private information from ending up in Google's massive databases."
Google caught significant flak earlier this year after
reports that it had figured out a way to trick Apples Safari Web browser into
allowing tracking via advertising cookies; Google claimed the tracking was
inadvertent and that the ad cookies did not collect personal information. It
disabled the code in question Feb. 16, following a
on the matter in the Journal.
Microsoft also claimed that Google had bypassed the privacy
preferences of Internet Explorer users. Weve found that Google bypasses the
P3P Privacy Protection feature in IE, Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice
president of Internet Explorer, wrote in a Feb. 20 posting on the corporate Internet
. The result is similar to the recent reports of Googles
circumvention of privacy protections in Apples Safari Web browser, even though
the actual bypass mechanism Google uses is different.
Google pushed back against Microsofts claim, telling
in an emailed statement that the P3P feature is impractical to
service while providing modern Web functionality.
Google also attracted criticism for some of its recent
privacy policies. On March 1, the company condensed its privacy policies for
some 60 products into one master policy, and allowed its Web services to share
user data with each other. While Google was open about the policy shift, it
nonetheless attracted criticism from privacy advocates and government
In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American
Life Project, some 83 percent of respondents indicated that they used Googles
search engine. At the same time, however, around 73 percent of Internet users
indicated they didnt want those search engines keeping track of their searches
and using that information to personalize future results. Another 68 percent
didnt want targeted advertising because the prospect of having their online
behavior tracked and analyzed made them uncomfortable.
Between that and the possibility of increased scrutiny by regulators,
Google could be facing some hard times ahead.
Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter