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The iPhone privacy promised by Apple doesn’t always work, but the blame for breaches of privacy on the iPhone isn’t exclusively the fault of Apple. A case that illustrates this is the privacy attack by Google on the iPhone.

Back in the spring, Google was accused of bypassing Apple’s security wall in order to spy on iPhone users and build advertising profiles. This lead to recriminations against the search engine giant that it was sleazy and engaged in criminal activity. Many people questioned whether Google was also engaged in spying on Android users.


It’s alleged that Google exploited a flaw in Apple’s Safari browser to sneak into users accounts when they surfed the Web on iPhones and Mac computers. Safari is the most popular browser on iPhone. Google breached the security features in Safari in order to spy on iPhone users by slipping a cookie into devices to collect advertising data. The company accomplished the privacy breach by inserting a blank message into Safari and tricking the application into accepting a cookie that spied on users.

Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer discovered the security breach implemented by Google back in February. Google had been bypassing the privacy settings of millions of iPhone users, according to writers Julia Angwin and Jennifer Valentino-Devries at the Wall Street Journal. After the newspaper contacted Google for a comment, the company disabled its tracking code.

The code allowed Google to track user activity across a wide swath of websites. Other companies that used the Google trick to track iPhone users included Vibrant Media Inc., Gannett’s PointRoll Inc. and the Media Innovation Group LLC.

The Journal reported that Google misled users by telling iPhone owners who used Safari that they could trust Safari’s privacy walls to stop Google from tracking them. The Journal reported that Google omitted that assurance after the newspaper contacted the company.

Google scurried into a CYA mode, releasing a statement that said the company wasn’t really collecting personal information. Google also claimed that the Journal had misrepresented its intentions. Google was already under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for misrepresenting its private policy to users.

Apple released a statement that its engineers were working on a solution to end the breach of Safari’s privacy settings.

The Journal investigation found that Google had planted its snooper code into many of the top 100 most popular web pages, including Fandango, Match, ATT Yellow Pages and AOL.

This iPhone brouhaha compelled the U.S. Congress to introduce a dozen privacy bills for consideration. President Obama called for a Privacy Bill of Rights to persuade companies to embrace better privacy practices. The European Union scolded Google and demanded that the company ensure the privacy of its citizens. Google said it planned to present new privacy measures to European officials.

Google had previously planned to share user information between YouTube, Gmail and Google Search. This horrified privacy advocates who said that Google would know more about you than your wife or husband, characterizing it as the creation of Big Brother.

Here’s a related a related video to this iPhone privacy issue.

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