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If you spy on me, at least do it openly


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#1 News Hound

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Posted 19 February 2012 - 12:43 PM

If you thought malware was the only thing you had to worry about spying on you, add Fortune 500 companies to your list. Google's privacy policy is bad, but now they're exploiting my browser, too?

It's easy to blame Apple for the breach of their users privacy due to a flaw in their Safari browser. After all, you might reason, they wrote the software, and it's their fault for not finding the bug sooner. But that's really not a fair way of looking at it. Sure, you could argue that the world isn't fair, either, and therefore you aren't obligated to look at anything fairly, but I reject that argument: the blame falls mainly on Google and the others involved.

Why, you ask, do I single out Google? Other companies, like Gannett and Vibrant, were involved, too, weren't they? Don't get me wrong, those are fairly well known companies, but they don't come close to the level of ubiquity that Google has achieved in the life of the average person. Google is a Fortune 500 Company, but they're not acting like it. No, not at all; they're acting like Eastern European hackers. Not that I have anything against Eastern Europeans - it's just that there are a lot of hackers there. Just ask Wired.

At this point you may be wondering what the hell I am talking about. Let me explain. A few days ago, as loyal readers of Neowin will no doubt know, Google's dirty laundry spilled out into the open when it was alleged that they, along with the other's I've already mentioned and some more besides, have been exploiting a bug in Apple's Safari browser and tracking users without their consent. You'd think a company who's privacy policy has been at the center of so much controversy might be just a tiny bit more careful, but that would require Google to change their whole business model, which isn't happening any time soon.

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There's no such thing as perfect software. All of it has bugs, no matter who made it, no matter how hard they tried to make it perfect, flaws inevitably slip in. This is especially true of browsers. IE has bugs, Safari has bugs, and yes, children, so does Chrome. From time to time, companies happen to run across such bugs while building software for platforms other than their own. In such situations, it is considered ethical to kindly inform the software maker of their error, so that it may be promptly patched, even if they happen to be your rival. It's just good manners, and it's good for the industry as a whole.

In this case, Google happened to find a bug in Safari which allowed them to trick the browser into accepting cookies without permission by tricking the browser into thinking the user was trying to submit a form, which they weren't. Rather than telling Apple so they could fix it, Google took a play from identity thieves and malware makers and decided to exploit the bug to their non-evil heart's content.

Some folks may rise to Google's defense, either because they don't see the problem here (doubtful), because they really love Google (possible), or because they really hate Apple (likely). I'm not trying to defend anyone here, and the only agenda that I have is that of a person who happens to value his privacy, thank you very much. Maybe it's dead to you, but not me. I intend to take the comforting blanket of privacy with me to my grave.

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There's no two ways about it: Google did a very bad thing here. Anything else is just denial. I've been uncomfortable with Google's constant prying before, but at least I knew about it then. Doing something like this behind everyone's back is a different matter entirely, and it makes you wonder what other kinds of nasty tricks are going on behind the glass walls at Mountain View. Microsoft has pointed out that IE9 doesn't have any such flaws, and I certainly hope that's true, but if it did, do you think Google would let anyone know?

Telling your customers you are keeping track of what they do so you can feed them targeted ads is one thing, but you simply do not exploit a bug to gain more information about them. No ifs, ands, or buts.

So shame on you, Google, and everyone else who was involved in this. When you found the flaw in Safari, you should have alerted Apple immediately so it could be patched. But no! You decided to screw your customers out of their private information behind their backs.

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