Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Google's Safari Hijinks Prompts Congressmen to Seek FTC Inquiry

Apple Safari iconImage via WikipediaFederal Trade Commission Chair Jon Leibowitz last Friday received a letter from Congressmen Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) urging the agency to probe whether social media giant Google has engaged in "unlawful privacy practices" by using source code chicanery to bypass Web browser Safari's privacy settings, Jurist (www.jurist.org) reports.

Responding to a Feb. 17 article that appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Representatives, who serve in the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, queried the FTC concerning whether Google's actions that enabled it to track Safari users without their consent ran afoul of a 2011 settlement agreement between the FTC and Google occasioned by the social network Google Buzz's breach of privacy rights during its launch. The accord prohibits Google from misrepresenting its privacy policies to users and requires user consent before the sharing of personal information with third parties.

According to the Journal article, Google employed special computer code that deceived Safari, Apple's Web browsing software, into allowing Google to monitor Safari users, neutralizing Safari's default settings that block user tracking. The Journal article claims Google disabled the code soon after the Journal contacted the social media company for the article.

Google is set to implement its new privacy policy March 1. The company was targeted earlier this month in a lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia by the Electronic Privacy Information Center against the FTC (Case No. 1:2012-cv-00206). The suit, filed under the Administrative Procedure Act [5 U.S.C. sec. 706(1)] seeks injunctive relief that would compel the FTC to enforce the consent order of October 13, 2011, in In the Matter of Google, Inc. (FTC File No. 1023136).

Google is also under fire from the European Union, which this month sent a letter to Google urging it to delay implementing its new privacy policy until the EU fully investigates it.

Readers taken aback by Google's behavior in this matter are well-advised to heed comedian Bill Maher's reminder that it's no accident that within the name Google is the word ogle.

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