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Well, Google has put its foot in it again.The company circumvented Apple Safari’s privacy protections so it could promote its “+1” system and make its advertisements more relevant.
Then it used this Safari workaround to drop cookies on users’ computers for its advertising clients, which is exactly the sort of behaviour that Apple’s privacy settings were supposed to prevent.
But when the Wall Street Journal busted Google on this behaviour, did Google come out and apologise?
It trashed the Wall Street Journal for “mischaracterizing” what it had done and then issued a long statement explaining its view of the truth.
If Google’s statement had been completely forthright, some readers might have sympathized with Google’s frustration with the Wall Street Journal. After all, Google does not appear to have hacked Safari with the intention of secretly “tracking” iPhone users, as the WSJ suggested. In fact, Google hacked Safari so it could enable its “+1” system to work in Google advertisements.
Yes, this hack still put Google’s interests first, it was still secret, and it still circumvented Apple’s privacy protections, but it was not initially done to “track” users.
Of course, after instituting the hack, Google then used it to place tracking cookies on Safari users’ for its advertising clients–so THE CLIENTS could track the Safari users.
And this, of course, was EXACTLY the creepy, startling Big Brother behaviour that Apple was trying to prevent.
So, in summary, here are the three things that Google did:
- Google secretly enacted a way to circumvent privacy protections established by Apple
- Google enabled this hack to further its own advertising (revenue) goals.
- Google then, apparently without prior intention, used the hack to drop ad-tracking cookies on Safari users, which is exactly the sort of practice that Apple was trying to prevent
Now, when busted for doing all that, you might think that Google would want to apologise.
After all, secretly prying open someone’s computer and dropping spyware on it on behalf of advertising clients would be the sort of thing that a lot of companies would want to apologise for.
But not Google.
Google just shot the messenger.
And then it worded its lengthy statement in a way that people would have to have a PhD in reading-between-the-lines to figure out what Google had really done.
You can read the whole statement here.
But as an example, check out how Google described hacking Safari and then dropping ad-tracking software on users’ computers:
[W]e 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…However, the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser. We didn’t anticipate that this would happen…
Note Google’s clever use of the passive voice, which makes it sound like its dropping spyware on your computer is somehow Apple’s fault.
Here’s a translation:
We secretly hacked into your browser to enable our relevancy tool so we can make more money, and then we did exactly what Apple was trying to prevent us from doing–put tracking software on your computer.
To underscore the rhetorical games Google is playing here, let’s use the same communication style to describe another type of bad behaviour… the behaviour of a petty thief who has just robbed a house.
I was walking down the street past a friend’s house, and I thought my friend wouldn’t mind if I went in and watched TV and ate some food. There was a window open, so I climbed through it. While I was in the kitchen, I saw some cash. In a situation that I did not anticipate when I climbed through the window, the design of the house enabled this cash to be scooped up by my hands.
Nice try, Google.
How about a simple apology?
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