Google Accused of Tracking Safari Users

google-safariGoogle is speaking out in the wake of a report that the company’s search engine bypasses privacy protections in Apple’s Safari browser.

The Wall Street Journal cited a Stanford University researcher in reporting that the company was ignoring settings on Safari intended to block tracking tools. Google platforms were reportedly able to log user activity on both the OS X and iOS versions of the browser.

The paper reported that after it contacted Google, the company disabled the offending components.

Google, however, said the report “mischaracterizes” the issue. Rachel Whetstone, Google senior vice president of communications and public policy, said in a statement that the code was used to provide services for users who had logged into their Google accounts.

“To enable these features, we created a temporary communication link between Safari browsers and Google’s servers, so that we could ascertain whether Safari users were also signed into Google, and had opted for this type of personalization,” Whetstone said. “But we designed this so that the information passing between the user’s Safari browser and Google’s servers was anonymous, effectively creating a barrier between their personal information and the web content they browse.”

What the company did not intend to enable, however, was the use of cookies by third party advertisers. Google said that the cookies were not collected personal information and that it would be removing the cookies from affected systems.

The report comes as Apple finds itself under scrutiny for its privacy practices. The company has come under fire from privacy advocates and and government officials following reports that iOS applications have been able to access user address books without notification or permission.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said that the incident underscores the need for a strict, organised “Do Not Track” platform from Google and its advertising partners.

“It’s time for Google to acknowledge that it can do a better job of respecting the privacy of Web users,” the EFF said. “One way that Google can prove itself as a good actor in the online privacy debate is by providing meaningful ways for users to limit what data Google collects about them.”

Apple has not responded to a request for comment.

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