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Google and other advertisers used ‘a special code’ to bypass Safari privacy restrictions

Dan Graziano
February 17th, 2012 at 9:05 PM

Google and other leading advertising companies have been bypassing the privacy settings of millions of unknowing Safari users, reports the Wall Street Journal. Using “a special code,” the companies were able to bypass the browser’s privacy restrictions and install cookies on a user’s computer, even when such actions were supposed to be blocked. Companies such as Google use cookies to track browsing habits across websites that it places advertisements on. Apple’s Safari Web browser blocks these third-party cookies by default, only allowing them on a website that a user directly interacts with. Read on for more.

The Journal’s research found that this “special code” was present in 22 of the top 100 websites when browsing from a computer, and 23 sites when using the iPhone’s browser. The publication notes that “once the coding was activated, it could enable Google tracking across the vast majority of websites.”

The Mountain View-based company has maintained its innocence, claiming its advertising cookies do not collect personal information. “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,” responded a Google representative.

Vibrant Media, Media Innovation Group and PointRoll all employed a similar code for tracking. Out of all the companies, Google has the largest market share, delivering Internet ads that were viewed at least once by 93% of all U.S. Web users in December. Apple reached out to The Journal and informed the publication that the company is “working to put a stop” to codes that bypass Safari’s privacy settings.

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