Google Caught Sneaking in Safari’s Back Door


Ashley Golden
Staff Writer

Google was recently caught circumventing Safari’s default privacy settings through the browser’s backdoor and changing its settings to allow third-party cookies that would have been otherwise rejected.

What does all this backdoor and cookie jumbo mean? Basically, when cookies are active there is a record of what sites a user just visited and that record can be used to tailor ads to a user’s interests. So when a user goes on, say Facebook, after having visited an organic fruit site, then an advertisement for organic oranges may be displayed in the sidebar widget. Without cookies, these personalized advertisements wouldn’t be displayed.

Google was caught by Stanford University researcher Jonathan Mayer and security consultant Ashkan Soltani. When the Wall Street Journal reported on what Google had done, Google immediately disabled the practice.

Apple had been alerted months prior to Google’s circumvention that there was an opening in their browser that could allow for tampering and the company had people working on the problem. Essentially, Google was working to exploit the loophole even as Apple worked to fix the faulty lock on its “door.”

Google defended the action by claiming Safari’s settings are non-standard compared to other browsers and don’t give users what they want.

This latest scandal comes along just as Google announces its new privacy policy that will give Google access to even more of user’s information. With Google’s new increased access, users will have virtually no privacy on the Internet. Before this new policy, the information Google got about users on its search engine was kept separate from the information it gathers on its other properties, which include its search engine, YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps and Google Docs, among others. Now, everything will be compiled into one massive database.

What this means is if a user looks something up about a sickness, for example pink eye, and then goes on YouTube, the site may suggest pink eye videos while at the same time pink eye medication ads are showing up. The implications are more staggering than that though, considering all manner of information is researched online, including financial for instance. Some users may find this intuitive Internet experience a great convenience, while others fear for their privacy.

Google has said these new privacy policies are so it’s able to make a complete profile about users to better serve them. However, just like with the Safari cookies, ultimately this practice has to do with stripping users of privacy for the sake of Google being able to tailor ads to consumers and make more money.

If the idea of going from little digital privacy to none disturbs users, ways to get around Google’s new policy are to avoid logging into Google accounts, disable Google’s search history, or use a different browser. Perhaps Yahoo or Bing will finally one-up Google.