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Google Caught Tracking iPhone Users By Evading Safari’s Safeguards

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According to the Wall Street Journal, Google and other companies have been secretly tracking iPhone users by circumventing Safari to ‘trick’ it into accepting cookies from third parties:

The companies used special computer code that tricks Apple’s Safari Web-browsing software into letting them monitor many users. Safari, the most widely used browser on mobile devices, is designed to block such tracking by default.

Google disabled its code after being contacted by The Wall Street Journal.

The Google code was spotted by Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer and independently confirmed by a technical adviser to the Journal, Ashkan Soltani, who found that ads on 22 of the top 100 websites installed the Google tracking code on a test computer, and ads on 23 sites installed it on an iPhone browser.

Google responded to the WSJ with:

“The Journal mischaracterizes what happened and why. We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. It’s important to stress that these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.”

What makes this story interesting is the WSJ notes Google noted on its own website to Safari users they could rely on the browser’s privacy settings to prevent any tracking by Google–but this information was removed Tuesday night.

Apple responded to the WSJ with:

“We are working to put a stop” to the circumvention of Safari privacy settings.

What ever happened to Google’s mantra of ‘Don’t be evil’? Is that over now? Here’s a diagram of how Google was able to circumvent Safari into accepting a cookie, and allow tracking of users for up to 24 hours:

What do you think about this? Should we be worried about Google tracking our surfing habits, along with other companies too? They already know everything about us since we’re using Gmail!

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