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By default, Apple’s Safari browser is set to block cookies from third parties as well as advertisers, but it a new investigation has turned up evidence that this may not be preventing Google and others from simply ignoring the setting to better track the ads they are serving up.
AppleInsider is reporting that Google “and at least three other smaller web ad networks” have found a way to circumvent the default privacy settings of Apple’s Safari browser. An investigation by The Wall Street Journal has turned up evidence that Google, Vibrant Media, Media Innovation Group and Gannett PointRoll are bypassing the privacy settings “using code that misrepresents its ads as being a user-initiated form submission.”
“Google added coding to some of its ads that made Safari think that a person was submitting an invisible form to Google,” the WSJ report reveals. “Safari would then let Google install a cookie on the phone or computer."
Both Safari and Mobile Safari include a default setting to block cookies “from third parties and advertisers,” which Apple uses by default to prevent Google and others from leaving advertising-related cookies on a user’s system.
However, in Google’s case, “some ads placed by DoubleClick (which Google owns) made it appear to Safari that the user was purposely interacting with DoubleClick by automatically sending an invisible form,” the report explains. “Safari would thus allow DoubleClick to install a temporary cookie on the user’s computer,” which could then be used for better tracking its ad views.
The Wall Street Journal has uncovered evidence of such activity at major websites all across the internet, including Google-owned YouTube, Aol, About.com, Comcast, NYTimes.com, YellowPages.com, Match.com and Fandango, but noted “there is no indication that any of the sites knew of the code” in question.
“We were not aware of this behavior,” said Michael Balmoris, a spokesman for AT&T-owned YellowPages.com, “and we would never condone it.” For their part, Google claims that WSJ "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."
While that may be the case, an unnamed official at Apple was quoted in the report as saying “we are working to put a stop” to companies circumventing the privacy settings in Safari -- and after being contacted by WSJ, Google “has also reportedly disabled the tracking code to circumvent Safari’s privacy settings,” according to AppleInsider.
Follow this article’s author, J.R. Bookwalter on Twitter
(Image courtesy of AppleInsider)