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Microsoft says Google is snooping on IE users

Updated Bypasses Internet Explorer privacy too
Tue Feb 21 2012, 09:52

THE PRIVACY FLAP that engulfed Google last week continues to create controversy, and now Microsoft is saying that the internet search firm has spied on its users.

Google was accused of circumventing user privacy settings on the Apple IOS web browser and taking some tracking information about users last week. It rectified this, and explained that it was just a bug. However, it has caused some controversy. Lawmakers have complained about it, and so has Microsoft. Twice.

Last time it was a relatively simple crowing message with Microsoft basically saying, "Oh noes! Google is bad. Come to us, we won't treat you like that." Now though it has stepped things up a gear, and accused Google of circumventing Internet Explorer (IE) privacy settings.

"Google is employing similar methods to get around the default privacy protections in IE and track IE users with cookies," says a blog post by Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president for Internet Explorer at Microsoft.

"We've found that Google bypasses the P3P Privacy Protection feature in IE. The result is similar to the recent reports of Google's circumvention of privacy protections in Apple's Safari Web browser."

Hachamovitch said that Microsoft has written to Google and asked it to stop doing what it is doing and "honour" IE's and other browsers' P3P settings. He added, of course, that any internet users that want to better protect their privacy should use Internet Explorer 9.

"By default, IE blocks third-party cookies unless the site presents a P3P Compact Policy Statement indicating how the site will use the cookie and that the site's use does not include tracking the user," he added.

"Google's P3P policy causes Internet Explorer to accept Google's cookies even though the policy does not state Google's intent."

P3P is not without its problems however, and as a standard some say it stopped being relevant some time ago. Internet Explorer is one of the few main web browsers to use it. Way back in 2000, EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said that it was an inadequate solution to internet privacy problem.

Unsurprisingly, Google took issue with Microsoft's claims and hit back that the Redmond firm is out of touch with the modern web world.

"Microsoft uses a ‘self-declaration' protocol (known as ‘P3P') dating from 2002 under which Microsoft asks web sites to represent their privacy practices in machine-readable form. It is well known - including by Microsoft - that it is impractical to comply with Microsoft's request while providing modern web functionality," said Rachel Whetstone, SVP of Communications and Policy at Google.

She added that it was not just Google failing to comply with the Microsoft approach, citing a 2010 report which found that more than 11,000 web sites were not issuing valid P3P policies. µ


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