Consumer Watchdog, a non-profit consumer advocate organization, recently censured Google. The accusation? Google has been “playing fast and loose” with Safari users’ data.
What Is The Consumer Watchdog Group
Founded in 1985, Consumer Watchdog has a long history of dealing with consumer health care advocacy, energy and taxpayer rights. The group is also involved in political reform, insurance and privacy issues.
Accusations Against Google On Safari
Last month, Consumer Watchdog claimed Google was less than honest with consumers using safari browsers on their computers, iPads and iPhones. At the time, Consumer Watchdog sent the FTC a letter outlining their displeasure with what they felt “misleading” activities on the part of Google.
In their scathing missive, the consumer advocacy organization alleged Google was “playing fast and loose” with private consumer information. The missive claimed Google was feeding false information to the public with regards to how their opt-out system actually operated.
In addition, Consumer Watchdog questioned if Google’s actions were in violation of the “Buzz Consent Agreement,” which requires Google to obtain consent whenever it changes its services.
Consumer Watchdog’s primary beef: Google’s main web browser on Apple’s platform, Safari, was depositing cookies when Google said it wasn’t. As such, when Safari users set their browser settings to deny third-party cookies, they did so in vain. In a seemingly obvious attempt to circumvent user preferences, Google’s DoubleClick, through invisible software, was able to place tracking cookies anyway.
A Matter Of Secret Cookies
To add insult to injury, Google gave false advice to Safari users who wanted to permanently opt out of being on the receiving end of Google’s advertising.
Google developed a “plugin” for Google Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer that allows the opt-out option to be persistent. It told users that while Google had yet to develop a cookie opt-out plugin model for Safari, Safari was set to block third-party cookies by default. Google further assured users that even if they haven’t personally changed their settings, their cookie opt-out desires were being met.
The advice was false. “Google was lying” wrote John M. Simpson of Consumer Watchdog in his letter to the FTC. In fact, he went on, Google was circumventing users’ privacy choices with DoubleClick tracking cookies.
Consumer Watchdog iterated Google was aware of their compromising position because it subsequently removed the specific references to Safari in their policy.