UPDATE: In a blog post, Microsoft Internet Explorer executive Dean Hachamovitch writes that the company believes Google is circumventing Explorer’s privacy settings, as well.
UPDATE 2: Google responds to Microsoft’s charges, via PC World. And Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer rebuts the statements Google has made about his research on the company’s circumvention of Safari’s privacy settings, via San Francisco Chronicle.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported on new research by Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer that shows four companies seek to circumvent consumers’ privacy settings in Apple’s browser, Safari. The four companies are: Google, Vibrant Media, Media Innovation Group and PointRoll. Google said the circumvention was a mistake and it has disabled the code. But, people are questioning the company’s motives and actions. Reps. Edward J. Markey (D.-Mass.), Joe Barton (R.-Texas) and Cliff Stearns (R.-Fla.) — all members of the Privacy Caucus — have written to (Markey pdf; archive pdf) the Federal Trade Commission asking it to investigate Google’s actions. The letter noted that the Safari scandal comes just a few weeks after Google announced changes in its privacy policies that will affect users of its services, such as search, Gmail, Google+ and YouTube. Advocates and legislators questioned the changes, saying that there were privacy issues, and criticized the Internet services giant (Congress pdf; archive pdf) for not including an opt-out provision.
The congressmen also asked if the Safari circumvention meant that Google had violated a settlement it made with the FTC last year over Google’s Buzz product. The Internet services giant agreed to a comprehensive privacy program to settle charges (pdf) it “used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises to consumers when it launched its social network, Google Buzz.
The Google Buzz settlement was also cited by the World Privacy Forum in its complaint (WPF pdf; archive pdf) to the FTC asking the agency to “investigate Google, Vibrant Media, Media Innovation Group, and Pointroll for potential violations of Section 5 of the FTC Act. These companies willfully overrode users’ privacy preferences as expressly stated by the users in their browser settings. Overriding privacy preferences and doing so without notice are both unfair and deceptive business practices.” The World Privacy Forum stated that it believes Google has violated the terms of the Buzz settlement. Read the full complaint for details.
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