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A Sad State of Internet Affairs: The Journal on Google, Apple, and “Privacy”

By - February 16, 2012

The news alert from the Wall St. Journal hit my phone about an hour ago, pulling me away from tasting “Texas Bourbon” in San Antonio to sit down and grok this headline: Google’s iPhone Tracking.

Now, the headline certainly is attention-grabbing, but the news alert email had a more sinister headline: “Google Circumvented Web-Privacy Safeguards.”

Wow! What’s going on here?

Turns out, no one looks good in this story, but certainly the Journal feels like they’ve got Google in a “gotcha” moment. As usual, I think there’s a lot more to the story, and while I’m Thinking Out Loud right now, and pretty sure there’s a lot more than I can currently grok, there’s something I just gotta say.

First, the details.  Here’s the lead in the Journal’s story, which requires a login/registration:

Google Inc. and other advertising companies have been bypassing the privacy settings of millions of people using Apple Inc.’s Web browser on their iPhones and computers—tracking the Web-browsing habits of people who intended for that kind of monitoring to be blocked.”

Now, from what I can tell, the first part of that story is true – Google and many others have figured out ways to get around Apple’s default settings on Safari in iOS – the only browser that comes with iOS, a browser that, in my experience, has never asked me what kind of privacy settings I wanted, nor did it ask if I wanted to share my data with anyone else (I do, it turns out, for any number of perfectly good reasons). Apple assumes that I agree with Apple’s point of view on “privacy,” which, I must say, is ridiculous on its face, because the idea of a large corporation (Apple is the largest, in fact) determining in advance what I might want to do with my data is pretty much the opposite of “privacy.”

Then again, Apple decided I hated Flash, too, so I shouldn’t be that surprised, right?

But to the point, Google circumvented Safari’s default settings by using some trickery described in this WSJ blog post, which reports the main reason Google did what it did was so that it could know if a user was a Google+ member, and if so (or even if not so), it could show that user Google+ enhanced ads via AdSense.

In short, Apple’s mobile version of Safari broke with common web practice,  and as a result, it broke Google’s normal approach to engaging with consumers. Was Google’s “normal approach” wrong? Well, I suppose that’s a debate worth having – it’s currently standard practice and the backbone of the entire web advertising ecosystem –  but the Journal doesn’t bother to go into those details. One can debate whether setting cookies should happen by default – but the fact is, that’s how it’s done on the open web.

The Journal article does later acknowledge, though not in a way that a reasonable reader would interpret as meaningful, that the mobile version of Safari has “default” (ie not user activated) settings that prevent Google and others (like ad giant WPP) to track user behavior the way they do on the “normal” Web. That’s a far cry from the Journal’s lead paragraph, which again, states Google bypassed the “the privacy settings of millions of people.” So when is a privacy setting really a privacy setting, I wonder? When Apple makes it so?

Since this story has broken, Google has discontinued its practice, making it look even worse, of course.

But let’s step back a second here and ask: why do you think Apple has made it impossible for advertising-driven companies like Google to execute what are industry standard practices on the open web (dropping cookies and tracking behavior so as to provide relevant services and advertising)? Do you think it’s because Apple cares deeply about your privacy?


Or perhaps it’s because Apple considers anyone using iOS, even if they’re browsing the web, as “Apple’s customer,” and wants to throttle potential competitors, insuring that it’s impossible to access to “Apple’s” audiences using iOS in any sophisticated fashion? Might it be possible that Apple is using data as its weapon, dressed up in the PR friendly clothing of  ”privacy protection” for users?

That’s at least a credible idea, I’d argue.

I don’t know, but when I bought an iPhone, I didn’t think I was singing up as an active recruit in Apple’s war on the open web. I just thought I was getting “the Internet in my pocket” – which was Apple’s initial marketing pitch for the device. What I didn’t realize was that it was “the Internet, as Apple wishes to understand it, in my pocket.”

It’d be nice if the Journal wasn’t so caught up in its own “privacy scoop” that it paused to wonder if perhaps Apple has an agenda here as well. I’m not arguing Google doesn’t have an agenda – it clearly does. I’m as saddened as the next guy about how Google has broken search in its relentless pursuit of beating Facebook, among others.

In this case, what Google and others have done sure sounds wrong – if you’ve going to resort to tricking a browser into offering up information designated by default as private, you need to somehow message the user and explain what’s going on. Then again, in the open web, you don’t have to – most browsers let you set cookies by default. In iOS within Safari, perhaps such messaging is technically impossible, I don’t know. But these shenanigans are predictable, given the dynamic of the current food fight between Google, Apple, Facebook, and others. It’s one more example of the sad state of the Internet given the war between the Internet Big Five. And it’s only going to get worse, before, I hope, it gets better again.

Now, here’s my caveat: I haven’t been able to do any reporting on this, given it’s 11 pm in Texas and I’ve got meetings in the morning. But I’m sure curious as to the real story here. I don’t think the sensational headlines from the Journal get to the core of it. I’ll depend on you, fair readers, to enlighten us all on what you think is really going on.

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  • Wilhelm Reuch

    Are you (and apparently ParisLemon) totally lost? Both of you only care about the corporate fight between Google and Apple.

    Google has been delivering yet another arrogant slap in the face of the users and you are trying to shift the blame over to Apple? By having another business model Apple is able to offer their users better privacy as setup by default. What do you think Apple should do? Remove all defaults in case someone is offended??? For all users through all settings of all software???

    Apple know that many customer care about privacy. They tighten up as much as they think possible. Sometimes they screw up (like the address book) but mainly they are o.k. 

    If Google software doesn’t like these settings what is wrong with asking the user “To use this service we need to reduce you privacy settings to the same level as our own Chrome browser, is this o.k.?” 

    I personally don’t like the free stuff where some fat cat corporate ad-guy decides about products and content. But, hey, I am just the user. According to Battelle and ParisLemon my computer and my data and my metadata all belong to Google. 

    There is an ugly word that describes the situation when corporate power and the state power mix and cooperate. That word is far to strong for this. But here we have the “webberati” and big corporates like Google mixing and cooperating and treating users not as free human beings but as enslaved consumer drones. God help us if we happen to have our privacy setting to tight.

    • Anonymous

      I agree – Google should ask, I just don’t know if it’s technically feasible.

      • tomblue

        I agree with Wilhelm on this one.  

        #1. My privacy settings were NOT set to private to begin with.  So I am sure there are millions of people who DID change their settings to private.  So for all of those people Google/WPP went around their back.  

        #2. Google/WPP knowingly bypassed these settings as they edited their code to do it.  

        #3. And if the WSJ is correct… “Until recently, one Google site told Safari users they could rely on Safari’s privacy settings to prevent tracking by Google. Google removed that language from the site Tuesday night.” 

        Within the past 2 months Google’s reputation has fallen off a cliff. 

      • Logic

        Ah your logic.
        Can I have your house?
        No??? I’m taking it anyway, I must have it, I don’t care what you say or wish.

      • Walt French

        You’re not really thick-headed, are you? Per the article, and per Google’s promises, and per Apple’s software, you have to TRY to go around the user’s preferred security setting.

        It was (would’ve been) easy to do the right thing.

      • Discit

        There are lots of sites that ask you to enable cookies…
        I guess this is different since they wanted to track every site you went to, but the minute you actually used their service or website they could ask you.

    • James Pakele

      “What do you think Apple should do?”
      Fix their stupid browser… They’ve known about the exploit for how long already…

      • Discit

        IE was hacked too. The point is google has smart engineers and they went out of their way to over-ride the user or browser’s settings and hack and track anyway.

  • Tim Acheson


    Google long ago became an evil corporation, surpassing all other corporations — many of which have historically been Google’s ideological and commercial enemies (most notably Microsoft).

    • Anonymous

      I think history may judge Google with a more gentle verdict, and Apple with a more harsh one.

      • Tim Acheson

        The way things are going, that could prove true.

        • SEO Journalist

           I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

      • Steven Noyes

        I don’t. Google jumped to the dark side Google Books and has gone downhill since that point. They long ago lost their way.

  • Anonymous

    Appears to be Google is more bad than Apple is bad here.  The high-technology industry is transitioning to a new leader from Google to Apple as it did about ten years ago from Microsoft to Google.  Folks in the Windows/Google world are going to find themselves lost for quite a while as Apple sets the agenda for the future of computing which others will have to follow grudgingly including in areas such as privacy.

    • Anonymous

      As I point out, I’m not sure Apple is doing this simply for privacy. Let’s not forget it is now in the advertising business….big time.

      • Anonymous

        Apple has a vast trove of data about its customers including personal details because they sell paid content.  Apple doesn’t need to crawl web sites as it is voluntarily given the data.  When the move to iCloud is complete, the volume of data will increase further.  There is no reason why Apple cannot mine this data to recommend other products, content and even ads.  However, as Chris Riley mentioned above, advertising is not Apple’s core business and never will be but it is Google’s core.  If Apple can take a portion of Google’s ad business then it damages Google but won’t affect Apple if the roles are reversed.  Apple wants to take out (hurt) Google as Jobs inferred said many times.I’m a fervent proponent of the open web but as can be seen from the proportion of anti-Google responses, the shine is coming off Google.

      • addicted4444

        That would make sense if advertising earned Apple enough to at least merit a line item in their earnings. Meanwhile, Apple’s current (quite transparent) business model of selling people hardware is earning them billions and has made them the most valuable tech (any sector?) company in the world.

      • Anonymous

        So what?
        I don’t care why Apple does it as long as it is what is good for me. And I certainly do not judge people (or corporations) on their motivations but on their doings. If it helps people to regain some privacy, it is ok. It is NOT destroying the free Internet to keep ad companies from tracking user behaviour.

        No matter what is common practice, I think it really is better do prevent third party cookies by default.

    • Anonymous

      While no company is entifely innocent, Apple isn’t innocent but Google is the major offender in tbis instance.

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  • Steve Pederson

    By the “open” web, you must mean “google open.” Which means an invasion of personal privacy that would make the Stasi jealous. Seriously. Reading your mail. Monitoring all you read. Tracking your relationships. How dare Apple interfere with this as a business model!

    I very much prefer to be the customer rather than the thing being sold.

    I remember the uproar when the government was going to search library records. Google and FB are doing this with everything one reads on the web and there’s barely a peep. And whatever their rhetoric they’re working very very hard to make sure they have your exact identity.

    Yes the WSJ is pretty clueless about technology. But should a user really have to figure out Tor to have any privacy any more?

    Apple can screw up as much as any company, but at least their entire business isn’t based on invading my privacy.

    And in fact I had no trouble finding the privacy setting on the iPhone. Maybe the default has changed over time because mine was off. Not any more.

  • Anonymous

    I can understand your argument, not agree mind you but understand, about Safari in iOS.  But if, as claimed, it is also doing this for Safari on the desktop which does expose these settings to the user in the same manner as Firefox and Chrome then this is 100% Google’s fault.

    As another commenter noted, if the Safari default setting bothers them then they can ask/threaten you for opt-in approval.  

    Hmmm, I wonder if Google is doing any shenanigans for those who change the default setting on Firefox (not to mention Chrome!) to mirror Safari’s.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think Do Not Track is default on web browsers. But I may be wrong.

      • Anonymous

        It is not Do Not Track that is being circumvented.  

        It is Do Not Allow Third Party Cookies.  

        Safari on the Mac doesn’t have Do Not Track (or at least I can’t find it).

        • Anonymous


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  • SBP Romania

    These days privacy has become a big issue, and i think that there are Internet users who don’t know what this exactly means and what are the risks involved. Information has always been synonym with power – and (in my opinion) this is the same case with Google.

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  • Anonymous

    I was going to read your take on things until I got to: “Then again, Apple decided I hated Flash, too, so I shouldn’t be that surprised, right?”.

    Apple decided that Flash was crap, especially for mobile devices. Adobe tried to fix it to work on Android for years . . . and finally admitted that it couldn’t be done. Get over it.

    • Anonymous

      I’m over Flash. Decisions being made for me? Not over that.

      • johms

        Flash wasn’t decided for you, you decided to buy an iOS device knowing there was no Flash. 

        Google decided for you that they should circumvent the privacy settings in your browser.

      • Dangitman

        So, why are you OK with other browser vendors making the decision that third-party cookies are perfectly fine, and you will accept them?

      • Anonymous

        They also made the decision of only having one physical button, and the decision to use a 3.5″ screen for you. What’s your point? Where’s the outrage about that?

      • Anonymous

        The cookies setting is front and center in the settings app, and default settings are always “made for you” so that’s a logical fallacy

      • Anonymous

        What a bizarre opinion. Allowing third party cookies by default is giving you choice buy no allowing them by default is robbing you of freedom?

        Also, does any average consumer really bemoan that they have to tap a box to allow people to track their activity? Or is that just something people who are in the business of writing about a business dominated by advertising?

        By ‘default’ I don’t give retail stores my phone number or zip code when they ask. Maybe they should stop me on the way out and demand to see my license?

      • Discit

        Adobe themselves have finally discontinued Flash mobile support for Android and the new Android, JellyBean, finally admitted Flash is not good enough and dropped it too. The reality that mobile Flash really does kinda suck and there are better options has made the decision for us.
        Yay. Now we can all be on the same page with mobile Flash.

    • Dave Aiello

      Beyond your point, Apple went so far as to publicly state why it thought Flash was a bad choice for mobile devices.  You can’t get much more up front about a policy than they were with that decision.

      • Anonymous

        Yep, they did. Steve called it crap. And perhaps it is (I’ve certainly not heard a lot of defense of it from developers). Then again, it was used by everyone, and from what I heard from folks at Adobe, the way Apple did it, there were other things in play.

        • Anonymous

          It is crap. And if you ever tried with/without you should know it. Just because “everybody is using it” is not reason enough to keep it alive. Once upon a time everybody was walking to get from A to B. Now, everybody uses cars/airplanes/busses/trains.

          I am a user and a customer. I do not care about politics between companies and which “things were in play” for business decisions. Thats gossip style. Please stick to facts.

        • bradisrj

          No John, there weren’t other things in play.

          Steve Jobs wrote his opinion of Flash explicitly, but not until after Apple gave Adobe time to fix Flash.  Flash is buggy (crappy) software.  What you “heard” from Adobe is self serving; why do you trust them over Apple when you can see for yourself how suspect Flash is on mobile, not to mention buggy, insecure, and unreliable on desktop as well.  ???

    • JustMe

       The point is that Apple made that decision for everyone else, whether they wanted it or not.  That is the problem.  Apple can hold whatever beliefs they want – when they start *forcing* me to believe the same, they’ve crossed the line.

      • Dale P

        They’re not forcing their beliefs on anyone. Don’t like their policies? There are HUNDREDS of non-Apple phones out there. Vote with your dollars.

      • Anonymous

        If a default setting reasonably chosen to protect your privacy can be changed, how is that “forcing you”?

      • Anonymous

        Apple did not force you to believe anything they simple recognized a basic technical reality about which you are apparently still in denial!

      • Tired

        I want my Linux code to run directly on Windows 7. For some strange reason, Microsoft doesn’t support that. They’ve crossed the line too.

      • bradisrj

        Apple hasn’t forced you to “believe” anything.  Yes, if you insist on buying Apple products then you are limited to using software they support.   I assume you are referring to Flash support on mobile.  So, while Apple won’t let you use it on their product, Android supports it.  Of course, since it doesn’t work very well, it’s not really a good selling point for Android.

        You might as well be mad at Ford for not allowing you to buy a four wheel drive Ford Taurus.  Taurus isn’t suited to four wheeling, yet even though four wheel drive is a something Ford does fine (compared to Flash which is buggy, insecure and crash prone in just about every use case) they don’t offer it where it doesn’t make sense.   So are you mad at them for “forcing” you to go without four wheel drive on a sedan they sell?  You paid for it you should be able to have “whatever options you want.”

        No, sorry….

  • spragued

    The inter-company rivalry is important to highlight — but there’s an interesting angle addressed in the EFF response (link below): this may be more evidence of internal management cock ups at Google — at least lack of coordination between the privacy police and those charged with pushing Google+. Once again, I’d really like to know what the recent changes are doing to the company internally.

    • Anonymous

      I agree there’s a larger discussion here to be had, and that in a company as large as Google (or Apple), there will be different points of view.

  • Tim Ambler

    1. Google is not the only browser that comes with iOS, as you claim. It is the default browser, but Yahoo! and Bing are also offered as options.

    2. I think you want “ensuring”, not “insuring”.

    3. Re: “That’s at least a credible idea, I’d argue.” Sure, it’s a credible idea worth considering, but I don’t think it’s the right explanation.

    Another credible way of looking at it is that Apple recognizes that privacy is important to customers. You seem to confuse this with Apple being benevolent, but that’s unnecessary. For Apple, a company whose relatively traditional business model is selling devices, such things are important for maintaining loyal customers. Google has a different set of customers (advertisers), and so their attitude toward privacy will be accordingly different.

    These are basic economic incentives. There’s no reason for all of the emotion.

    • Anonymous

      Yahoo and Bing are not browsers.
      And yes, another credible way is to say that Apple is doing this because it believes it understands a user’s privacy better than a user does. Which I think is paternalistic. Truth is, privacy is a far bigger issue, with far more nuanced points.

      • Anonymous

        And it is not paternalistic for Google to decide that my choice of Safari, in part because I like the default to Do Not Accept Third Party Cookies and want to encourage that behavior in other browsers, should be disregarded.

        And, no, this is not just some obscure default setting that no one knows about.  Steve Gibson, on the TWiT network’s podcast “Security Now”, has several times noted and commented favorably that Safari defaults to this setting and encouraged privacy concerned folks to adjust their browsers to mimic Safari.

        This is a know privacy behavior enhancement that Google has circumvented.

        • Anonymous

          We are where we are right now. I am looking forward to more nuanced approaches than “this sucks, no, wait, this sucks more.” And then arguing about it.

      • Tim Ambler

         I apologize about the search engine/browser thing. That was an awful misreading and it carried over into my comment. I hereby pledge to do no more commenting before morning coffee.

        But regarding paternalism, don’t you think this is something that a lot of customers desire? Apple has had a very pronounced paternalistic streak for ages, one that has only become more prominent during the iOS era. If it really bothers you so much, maybe iOS just isn’t for you?

        On a personal note, I don’t find this sort of paternalism so odious in cases like privacy settings, mandatory sandboxing of apps, etc. What drives me insane are the completely arbitary decisions. If you’re a long time Apple user, there’s a good chance your favorite preference was eliminated from settings for no good reason at some point.

        • Anonymous

          Good poitns.

          • tomblue

            Looks like that bourbon is back firing.  Maybe you need an Irish Coffee… :)

          • Anonymous

            Hey, it’s MORNING now. I just am a sloppy typer!

          • tomblue

            just kidding – figured you needed a hair of the dog cocktail. :)

      • Galen Ward

        This isn’t paternalism, these are defaults. All browsers have defaults that try to strike a balance between end-user usability and end-user protection. For instance, the popup that asks you if you really want to download a file. 

        Browsers need defaults – the 50 question survey browser never got traction because the experience sucked.

        Safari’s defaults work well for the end user. Apple does not serve “the open web” if you define the open web as advertising companies – it serves the end user. 

        I agree the breathless nature of the article was too much, but this post isn’t much better.

      • Anonymous

        WOW! In this response one can see your bias.

        “… another credible way is to say that Apple is doing this because it believes it understands a user’s privacy better than a user does.”

        The point was Apple gives user a more secure default setting to give the user a better experience and therefore build more customer satisfaction and insure they remain Apple customers. Do you not see how Apple can do what is in their own best interest and still serve their customers interest?

      • Anonymous

        No, it is not paternalistic. For the average user, it is true. I know many people who do not have the slightest idea what cookies are, where they can change the settings or what those settings mean. Do you want to deny them using the internet to protect them? Or do you think thats natural selection – people who do not know do not deserve privacy?

        I think delivering reasonable privacy settings by default is customer service.

        • Anonymous

          I think this discussion is turning into a general rant about privacy. And that’s probably the worst defined term in the world, it’s very, very subjective.
          I am reading all the new comments from Gruber’s post, and respect all your voices. I can’t respond to them all now, but will write more and again on this subject. As I said in my initial post, there’s a lot more reporting and thinking to be done. Hence the conditional tone.

    • Dale P

      Google, Yahoo! and Bing are search engines. You could have pointed out that there other web browsing apps, but due to app store policies, they are wrappers for the same engine Safari uses.

  • Peter Cranstone

    How about about a browser that actually gives you a Choice – something that you can control. It’s straightforward enough to build. The only issue is – is someone willing to do it.

    • Anonymous

      Most web browsers have exactly that.

      • Peter Cranstone

        I don’t think so. 

        Where’s the panel that i can control every aspect of what is shared? For example where can i type in my ad preferences and ask them to only track my location for the next 30 minutes? I have every browser you can download here – the only thing that “some of them have” is a Do Not Track option which as your post points is absolutely worthless. So in essence there’s no user control to stop this kind of behavior. 

        • Anonymous

          I think there should be.

          • Peter Cranstone

            There is. 

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  • Tim F.

    ““Google Inc. and other advertising companies have been bypassing the privacy settings of millions of people using Apple Inc.’s Web browser on their iPhones and computers…”

    I repeat “ Apple Inc.’s Web browser on their … computers…” Not just iOS Safari but also Mac Safari. The web browser to lead the industry in Do Not Track options — a strong new privacy trend supported by every browser maker except Google, a web browser which does allow you to decide what you want to do with your own privacy.

    You do yourself a great disservice by pretending that it’s Apple breaking the web or the default expectation and pretending that it’s only Safari on iOS.

    “In this case, what Google and others have done sure sounds wrong – if you’ve going to resort to tricking a browser into offering up information designated by default as private, you need to somehow message the user and explain what’s going on. Then again, in the open web, you don’t have to – most browsers let you set cookies by default. In iOS within Safari, perhaps such messaging is technically impossible, I don’t know. But these shenanigans are predictable, given the dynamic of the current food fight between Google, Apple, Facebook, and others”I do not view Do Not Track options as Apple breaking default expectations of non-privacy solely to tweak Google’s nose. Are Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and Microsoft’s IE doing similarly for the same reason?

    • Anonymous

      I honestly do not know if it’s also on the computer. Safari by default does on the PC web what it does on iOS? As for Do Not Track, I am not in favor of this as a default setting, because I think there is much good to be done in the world with what is labeled “tracking” – I think we need an educated public (see Hawk’s comments) who understand that “tracking” can in fact improve your web experience. I prefer the ablity to block bad actors, not lock down an entire technology due to vague and unsubstantiated privacy threats.

      • Tim F.

        Because you sell ads.

        I prefer to block the behavior. You are saying that if Apple supports what I want, Google has the right to try to exploit vulnerabilities in Apple’s attempts to provide what I want and to disregard me as the user.

        • Anonymous

          nope, as I said many times, i don’t think the way Google went about this sounds right.

  • Chris Riley

    Actually yes, unlike Google, I believe that Apple cares about my privacy. Apple wants me to buy another product — that’s how they get me. They want me in the App Stores and iTunes forever, buying things.

    They don’t give a shit about my information. They don’t make money selling me advertisements and doing god knows what with my information, like Google does.
    Remember, Google derives 98%+ of it’s profit from advertising, and Apple derives less than 1% of it’s revenue from advertising. 

    Are you really going to tell me that Apple has more motivation than Google to abuse private information?
    Apple is the richest company in the world on hardware sales, you really think they’re abusing information? That’s what companies like Google and Facebook, companies without real products for sale, do to make money. 

    • Anonymous

      Er…yes they do make money selling you ads. A lot of it, and they are pushing for more. And they give a Big Steaming Shit about your data, trust me.

      • Anonymous

        It is about trust. If customers do not trust Apple any more they won’t buy their hw/sw. If users do not trust Google it does not make any difference for Google, their search machine is dominant anyway.

        Right now, I trust Apple.

        • Anonymous

          I trust the individual user over any particular company.

          • Anonymous

            Sent from my iPad

          • Anonymous

            No. You just hate

            Sent from my iPad

  • Anonymous

    We have a big disconnect on what the “open web” means.  To me the open web means access to any site on any device (see your Flash reference).  With and without  the option of being tracked.  So to you the “open web” means being forcibly tracked for better ads?  BTW, just because something has always done in a certain way such as track everyone by default, doesn’t mean it should always be done that way.  If you think all privacy controls should be off because it is “standard practice”, we need a talk about what is acceptable standard practice in the web industry.

    • Anonymous

      No, the open web means I have the right to not be tracked *if I chose it.” That choices are not forced upon me.

      • Anonymous

        Did you even look at your iPhone before writing this? You can choose.  Go to Settings->Safari->Accept Cookies->Always.

        • Anonymous

          Right, opt in vs out. Choice was made for me one way or another. prefer to be asked, tho don’t think most folks yet understand the trade off.

  • Errol Mars

    Blocking cookies is my default on all my browsers including Google Chrome. You speak like someone in the advertising industry, well you are, so maybe you’re not looking at the issue like the rest of us. I depend on advertising for my sites also but I care about my users privacy. I respect their rights not to be tracked by my ad network. Google is WRONG in this instance.

    • Anonymous

      Agree that what Google did is wrong (at least, by the facts presented in the article). I said that in my post.

  • Thomas Hawk

    So let me see if I understand this, maybe I do not.  Apple makes a browser that by default blocks the ability for an advertising company to see if I clicked on an ad or to see what ads might be most effective to serve up to me.  

    An advertising company does a workaround.  

    Shouldn’t the lead really then read:

    “Google Inc. and other advertising companies have been bypassing the default ad tracking settings of Apple Inc’s Web browser on iPhones and computers — tracking the advertising habits that Apple Inc. intended to be blocked.”

    Personally I could care less if an ad company knows the things I like.  Would I rather see an advertisement for cameras than diapers?  Sure.  It makes more sense.  This is not nefarious or wrong.

    I was a huge fan of the iPhone.  I spent the night in line to get the very first one that came out.  I waited in long lines  for hours with each successive release (yes, I am that guy).  Personally I ditched my iPhone though mostly because it’s sooooo slow.  Once you use 4G on the new Google Nexus Galaxy there is simply no going back.  And my God Chrome is such a better browser on ICS than Safari is on the iPhone.  Plus Google+ works much better on ICS than on the iPhone.  

    This seems like much a do about nothing to me.  As a consumer I care about things like speed and functionality on my phone, not what ads may or may not get served up to me.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the advertisement.  I would hope that G+ works better on ICS.  BTW, Outlook runs much better on Windows 7 and Quicktime is actually nice on a Mac. In the day when everyone thought that MS was taking over, insuring a better experience on your own platform while maintaining a 2nd rate experience on others was called tie-in.  Enjoy fiddling with your openly tracked phone, seriously.

      • Thomas Hawk

        Toby, I think you meant to say enjoy fidding with my *MUCH FASTER* openly tracked phone.  Once you go 4G there is no going back.  Seriously.  This is not an advertisement for Google.  It’s simply a fact.  

        Having my internet on my phone go really really really fast actually matters to me ALOT — much more than if I get pitched Ford or Chevy when visiting

        I still love Apple products as much as the next guy.  I’m typing this on a MacBook Pro right now.  I’ve got two other Macs in my house, an iPad and three Apple TVs.  But I’m not going to use a slow ass phone like the iPhone or a slow ass browser like Safari.  Nothing personal, the Nexus and Chrome are just faster technology is all.

    • Anonymous

      Well said Thomas.

    • Billjojn

      That’s fine. You have the right not to care – that’s why it’s a *setting*. But a large number of people – a majority I would argue – find it creepy to think that some advertising network is tracking them across every website they visit, slowly accumulating data, to sell it to whoever has the cash.

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  • Anonymous

    Oh, give me a break. People like you are so lost its sad. You just rationalize things however you see fit to make yourself feel better.

    And are you honestly accusing Apple of hating an “open web?” News flash, remember Webkit? Yea, that groundbreaking engine that basically enabled mobile Internet, for every single other phone manufacturer? Or, remember when Apple pushed HTML5 (an open standard) over Flash (proprietary). Oh but wait, did you just say you LIKE flash? I thought you were preaching about this “open” Internet?

    Your argument would be rational if Apple didn’t give you the option to change your settings in Safari, but THEY DO. It has to default on something, right? Not everyone wants to share everything they do with advertisers.

    By that’s it, just twist the blame on Apple, and accuse them of tyranny or whatever nonsense. When Google were the ones EXPLOITING a bug, and flat out misleading and LYING to consumers. Ya, that’s it. Apple is so evil, Google are nothing but Saints who love treating users fairly.

    • Anonymous

      I did not defend Google (read it again) I asked an open question of Apple. I’m glad there is a setting to change in Safari, I plan on changing mine. I agree with Thomas Hawk, I’d prefer ads that are relevant.
      I honestly don’t think this is about privacy. I think the ad industry has a lot of work to do, and I intend to be part of that work.

  • Peter Cranstone


    If you want an interesting read on Privacy check out what the W3C are up to regarding the Do Not Track header. You can find the mailing archives here:

    As you’ll see there’s a lot of confusion and no easy answer in this arena.

    • Anonymous

      I totally agree. Thanks for the pointer

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  • Nagle

    No blogging while drunk, please. 

    • Anonymous

      I was tasting, not quaffing!

  • Daniel McNeely

    A little off topic, but how was the Texas Bourbon?  :)

    We had a little Whiskey celebration at work yesterday and enjoyed some BTAC, Pappy Van Winkle 15, 20 and 23 & some Abraham Bowman uncut Bourbon Whiskey.

    • Anonymous

      It was a bit hot, young. To be expected, it’s a new kid on the block. But it was certainly not bad. Thanks for asking.

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  • JustMe

    It’s very simple.  Google is evil.  Apple is evil.  Facebook is evil.  The internet has become their battle ground for waging their evil wars to control and exploit the masses for their own profit.  Not one of them is on your side (‘you’ being the general internet user). Is this really a surprise?  Is this this news?

    • Anonymous

      Yes, it’s news. Because we have to become informed consumers of this Internet thing, and we need to be able to create a social contract with these companies that is in the common good.

  • Bove

    Many iPhone users know how to change Safari privacy settings and yet keep the default of not allowing 3rd party cookies. For them, what Google and others did was evil.

    History shows that Apple protected computer users better than Microsoft and thereby increased customer loyalty. Paternalistic? No, just smart marketing.

    • Anonymous

      Fine points, well taken.

      • Anonymous

        And as Dave Murdock pointed out above, Safari had this as the default setting back in 2005 prior to prior to Chrome, iPhone or iAd.

  • Jim

    Did I misinterpret something in the article? It seemed to say that the tracking only occurred when the user clicked +1 on the ad. If that’s true, then how does this violate privacy when the user actually wanted others to know about his/her advertising “likes”? In this case, then this strikes me as a bit overheated reaction. Of course, if I’m wrong, I will just go back into my room and turn the light out……

    • Anonymous

      No, I think the “problem” was that it could only happen *if* someone clicked on the ad, which of course very few do. So Google used this workaround.

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  • kid

    boss, back to the Texas Bourbon,
    dial up radio nowhere. soon you’ll be comin’ down. like livin’ in the future. forget your own worst enemy, brother.

  • Tim F.

    I would love to hear how you would respond to this:

    But Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project Director John Simpson claimed in a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz that Google’s action’s violate the “Buzz Consent Agreement,” which requires Google to get consent from users any time it changes its services in a way that results in the sharing of more information.
    Simpson blasted Google for giving “false advice” to Safari users regarding the ability to permanently opt out of receiving targeted advertising. “Google has developed a so-called browser ‘plugin’ for Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Google Chrome that makes the opt-out persistent,” Simpson wrote. “Google has not developed a plugin for Safari.” Instead, Google tells Safari users “While we don’t yet have a Safari version of the Google advertising cookie opt-out plugin, Safari is set by default to block all third-party cookies. If you have not changed those settings, this option effectively accomplishes the same thing as setting the opt-out cookie.”

    • Anonymous

      Sounds like Google is contradicting itself if this complaint is accurate. I’ll dig in more over the coming weeks. About to head out for a week off…

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  • BarackObama

    How can you so dumb John? They are many browsers on the market, if I use Safari I expect legit companies to respect their and mine privacy settings. Nothing else matters. You cna have a discussion about Apple’s paternalism tomorrow or the day after (no that anyone is forced to buy Apple). Google tried to save us from Apple, right? Please.

    Google is a crooked company, all these “incidents” show that they have no moral foundation, no ethics and that the government should step in.

    • BarackObama

      fixed :) >>>

      How can you be so dumb John? They are many browsers on the market,
      if I use Safari I expect legit companies to respect Safari’s /my privacy settings. Nothing else matters. You can have a discussion about
      Apple’s paternalism tomorrow or the day after (no that anyone is forced
      to buy Apple). Google tried to save us from Apple, right? Please.

      is a crooked company, all these “incidents” show that they have no
      moral foundation, no ethics and that the government should step in.

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  • Joe

    You seem to be a real Apple hater. Why did you buy an iPhone? If Apple is so abusive in its practices, shouldn’t you have opted for Android phone, which I’m sure isn’t nearly as draconian about protecting you from the glory of advertising.

    • Anonymous

      Sigh. I have both.

  • Anonymous

    The state of tech journalism is really sad. While Google’s acts are sneaky and infuriating, I am sickened more by the Journal’s blatant Apple lapdog behavior on this. 

    In the past, if something like this had happened on say Internet Explorer – the headlines would have screamed “Google exposes big security hole in IE”. Apple has to accept the flaw in its browser software that allows folks to do that and fix it ASAP. Spinning a story just to show Google in bad light cannot cover that up.

    If a blogger in India can do it, I am sure any other hacker can as well and cause much more serious harm than merely showing ads.

    • Tim F.

      Please, you sound like the lapdog. Google didn’t find an exploit; they EXPLOITED the hole someone else found.

      • Anonymous

        Are you trying to contradict me or agreeing with me ;-)

        I mentioned the blogger in India who found the exploit and you seem to agree that an exploit does exist in Safari. I have no love lost for Google either.

        So whose lapdog are you accusing me of being? Not seeing the logic here (or is that just a result of a momentary hole in your reason).

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  • Unix 86

    maintain an account in facebook privacy is very important for the safety of each person,

    Zoe-juegos de cocina

  • Daniel Parent

    All this brouhaha has altered my social browsing habits. In iOS and OS X I use a secondary browser dedicated to social site browsing, and nothing more. The paid version of Fluid works to keep social cookies private from other browsing as well. Oh, and I shut down my Google+ account. I don’t want to have to worry about this stuff when I’m using the web!

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  • Dave Murdock

    Apple shipped Safari 2.0 with OS X 10.4 Tiger in April 2005. The default “Accept Cookies” setting was “only from sites you navigate to – For example, not from advertisers on those sites” as documented in screenshots here (also attached). This is the same setting as current day multiple platforms Safari’s “Block cookies: From third parties and advertisers”

    Apple has been defaulting their browsers to this setting for a very long time. Long before they owned an ad network, long before Google shipped Chrome, and long before Google & Apple were battling for smartphone market share.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks. I knew Apple was unfairly being blamed for what is clearly Google (and other websites) underhanded tricks. This is a definite proof that Apple truly cares about its user’s privacy!

      • Lol

        Yeah, they care so much! Takes years to fix this backdoor… (is it fixed now even?) Either they don’t care or they are just flat out incompetent.

        • Anonymous

          Read the comment from Dave Murdock above, check out the screenshot and then tell me what was Apple’s motivation to prevent third party cookies from the beginning? Attack from Germany? Aliens? Any conspiracy theory you can think of? Did Apple touch you in a bad way when you were a baby?

        • Discit

          Again, they hacked IE too. Google has smart engineers. As IE shown, this wasn’t because a backdoor. It was non-perfect security they found a way to hack. All systems are hackable with the right talent and motivation, as shown by the fact google was also able to hack Microsoft. They just found a different hole for IE.

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  • Khürt L. Williams

    So Apple is damned because the mobile browser defaults in favor of privacy and damned because iOS defaults in favor of not keeping contacts private from apps? I give up!

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  • zato

    The anti-Apple bullshit never ends.

  • Raffa Edwards

    This is not about Apple vs. Google. I purchase the iPhone. I pay the monthly data bill. I performed the search. I will also decide if I can believe Google; should I curtail my usage of Google products?
    P.S. google is the company that lied to me!

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  • BigDog

    Frankly, one of my reasons for choosing Safari over other browsers is the privacy settings. Tho far from perfect, and despite Scott McNeally’s claim “Forget privacy,” it is my choice to maintain as an anonymous presence as possible. And I regularly delete cookies and browsing history from every browser I use, every 30 minutes at the least often. I have no obligation to Google or any other advertiser, advertising agency or anyone else for that matter to provide any information I choose not to provide.

    Your perception of how things are done on the WEB are irrelevant to any discussion of this matter. Simply because something is done, doesn’t make it right. And keep in mind, it is only a question of time before some bright young programmer finds a method for using the doors opened by cookies to gather which will harm many. Hopefully, you will be that young programmer’s first target and empties your bank accounts online.

    One more thing. Think about it. Chrome is a Google product and it is to Google’s advantage to not maintain privacy standards which inhibits Google’s phishing. Very perceptive on your part to not see the obvious.

    • Anonymous

      Again I am not defending Google, I am raising questions about Apple’s motivations, which always bring out the haters, alas. I love a lot of what Apple does. Same for Google. But i question all of them.

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  • hypermark

    John, this is so wrong. Google is the clear offender here, even if the topic of privacy, and what’s kosher/not, is an unfinished debate.

    Apple offers a curated platform. We know this, this is their primary strategy, and it’s proven pretty effective for developers, customers and the company alike. They’re not saints, but they are true to their mission. 

    And you have to admit, the company exercises pretty good technology judgment, STILL offering the best mobile web browser (how is that anti-web?), not to mention having the cajones to get away from a Flash offering that has repeatedly proven to be a drain on system performance. 

    More to the point, history has shown their call on Flash to be the right one. Despite absence of Flash being a theoretical competitive vulnerability, there STILL is no non-Apple mobile device that offers top-flight Flash performance. How many years after Adobe touted their mobile readiness are we? Six years, seven years?

    My point is that what you are doing by elevating Apple as a peer in this story is distorting the hard truth; namely, that this is like the fourth or fifth of these stories in the past few months where Google is caught acting in a manner that tarnishes their ‘Do No Evil’ legacy.

    At some point, someone has to say that Google has officially “Jumped the Shark.”

    • Greg Paulhus

      You just said it. And I think you’re right. Google has indeed jumped the shark.

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  • Jonahstein

    In short, Apple’s mobile version of Safari broke with common web practice,  and as a result, it broke Google’s normal approach to engaging with consumers. Was Google’s “normal approach” wrong? Well, I suppose that’s a debate worth having – it’s currently standard practice.

    Google has seriously broken with standard web practice by denying publishers referral data unless they are buying ads, primarily to prevent competing ad networks from personalizing their results and defended this enormously destructive break with web standards as protecting search privacy.  Do they hack around my Safari desktop setting to disallow 3rd party cookies? 

    Meanwhile, you assert that Apple is deciding for me if I take 3rd party cookies.  Regardless of whether that setting is by default or I have to tinker with the UI to find it,  Google is at minimum violating my intent and my privacy and is likely the law when they hack around my stated preferences.

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  • Shane Anthony

    Wilhelm Reuch, sorry but your a true Apple fan boy. Want to know why you cant get flash on your apple products … its because Adobe stopped supporting Apple OS’s. So pulling flash support was apple’s way of getting back at Adobe. Its actually childish of apple to set out to break how things work out on the internet, Flash being the first and this being the second one we’ve found out about. And I really doubt that apple cares about you seeing that they resort to virtual slave labor via foxxcon to produce their products, 30+hr work shifts at .31 cents a hour if you were wondering. 

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  • Ivan Pavlov

    I am surprised that nobody mentions Path here. Come on … it was 2 days ago, it was again about the “default” Apple privacy settings, it was about your whole private address book silently loaded on a remote corporate server.
    For me these are parts of the same corporate battle led on multiple fronts – patents, privacy, labor conditions …
    And this “shocking discovery” of something which existed and was used by the ad networks since the beginning of the iPhones is coming exactly 2 days after the “shocking discovery” about Path. 
    Well done WSJ!

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  • Andrew Delpha

    Speaking as a web developer, if sites like Google, Twitter, and Facebook didn’t take advantage of these “exploits” in Safari, then the web wouldn’t work in Safari as its users expect it to (which is to work like it does in all the other browsers).  Things such as the Like buttons, etc wouldn’t work, and most users would have no idea why.  The users NEVER chose this “privacy setting”, it is the default.

    Worse is Safari doesn’t offer a white list option (like all the other major browsers do) so a user could specifically allow sites they utilize/trust to set the cookies in this 3rd party situation.

    I feel Google’s use of this “exploit” for Google+ is acceptable, however I do think their  using it for their advertising cookies is more questionable.  I just hope that Apple doesn’t further break the web for PRs sake to deal with uninformed user outcry from this hyped up story.

    • Anonymous

      That’s why I said in my post I wanted to to more :reporting” I was wondering if other companies like Facebook used this “exploit”. Sounds like from your experience they do.
      As I understood it, if someone had already visited a site, they got automatically whitelisted?

      • Stacy Cowley

        I’ve been trying to chase that down as well, and it’s unclear. As WSJ mentioned, Facebook definitely included this in a ‘best practices’ guide for workarounds to common problems. But I haven’t been able to sort out the claims ‘all Like buttons rely on this to work’ — it seems like for Facebook developers the key thing was using it to get around problems with apps being served in iframes. 

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  • marius

    You are a moron and I stopped reading the article right after “Apple decided I hated flash”. You suck and should not be allowed to post your thoughts anywhere expect to you silly gods. In private!

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  • Bd6438

    Perhaps slightly off-point here, but my thought on this is the following:  what would have been wonderful is if back in 2004 or so would-be entrepeneurs such as Mr. Zuckerberg had had one iota of business acumen to go along with their high levels of technical acumen.  Had this been the case, it might’ve saved the internet from this ridiculous business model of “don’t charge anything for a product, just use users’ information to sell ads” / “hey, cool, the user can be the actual product we sell”!!!  Granted this probably wouldn’t have applied in the case of Google’s search product.  But good lord, Facebook and probably hundreds of other companies now have taken to this business model, as opposed to (*gasp*) actually charging real dollars to use their sites. It’s a huge shame to those of us who have been in the software development field for a couple decades now, before the internet was even around…Yes, there were actual ethical norms in software that simply were not bent no matter what the hollow argument.  Remember the phrase that popped up during the install process for every single piece of software you installed?  ”We respect your privacy”.

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  • Anonymous

    Apple simply controls its own product offerings.

    Google monopolizes Big_Data Copororate-Silos filled with our public interconnect semantics meta-data. They have a lock on search, video, and maps.

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  • george

    This is what happens when you mix Texas Bourbon, an 11:00PM post and a barn door discussion on privacy! I’m giving you a hall pass on this one! Is this about a point to pick with Apple? Come on, isn’t this simply Google just gripping hard because their toolbox is shrinking? How do you change that? Change the parameters, right?


    • Anonymous

      I honestly don’t know. I had far less bourbon that I would have liked! This is complex and will need further exploration

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  • Walt French

    For those who don’t subscribe to the WSJ, a bit more about who looks bad in this story, and why:
    “In Google’s case, the findings appeared to contradict some of Google’s own instructions to Safari users on how to avoid tracking. Until recently, one Google site told Safari users they could rely on Safari’s privacy settings to prevent tracking by Google. Google removed that language from the site Tuesday night.

    Last year, as part of a far-reaching legal settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission the company pledged not to “misrepresent” its privacy practices to consumers.”
    So according to the WSJ, Google has pledged to represent its privacy practices accurately, but did not. The particular back door that it found is of course interesting to security issues, but is a good notch down from our concern about how well Google’s employees understand their company’s obligations to the public.
    These two paras were hardly inaccessible; they bracketed the quote that JBAT read, in which the WSJ gave Google the forum in which to refute the concerns. In otherwise, your friendly blogger is trying to spin the story as an “everybody looks bad” thing when Google works counter to its express promise to regulators.
    Of course, those who regularly follow tech issues in the press, remember another article about Google explicitly violating its promise to rein in non-US drug advertisers, explicitly helping a criminal bypass the monitoring it had installed. 

  • Walt French

    “[Safari] has never asked me what kind of privacy settings I wanted…”
    You don’t remember telling Safari what you wanted because its default choice didn’t get in your way, and you never bothered poking around. Isn’t that the way things are supposed to work?
    And if you had bothered to find the obvious place (Safari’s “Privacy” settings), it couldn’t have been much more clear.

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  • Hozo1

    look … no one is forced to use Apple and they DO care about privacy … the problem is Google lied … plain and simple and as usual you as an Apple hater has to bring them into the conversation because Safari is not built like the swiss cheese Internet Explorer … bias abounds or a slow news day

  • Hozo1

    if you know anything about software … and you do … then you know that it is well known by every developer that Flash is bloated and a huge memory hog … it lasted long past its prime so to say Apple decided they hated it is just wrong … we all knew it was and still is the source of many computer crashes and Adobe decided to ride with it and lost … shed some light please

    • Anonymous

      I’m not getting into Flash wars here.
      More soon on all this but I’m on vacation!

      • Hozo1

        Okay … I do enjoy your blog … Even though we do not agree on certain issues .. Appreciate you reaching out

      • Greg Paulhus

        That’s wise, not to get into a Flash war, since the war is over and Flash lost. Apple was proven right on Flash, I suspect they’ll be proven right on default browser settings as well.

      • Roar Shack

        If you didn’t want to talk about flash you shouldn’t have brought it up. Sounds like you just want to use flash to cast aspersions towards Apple.

        • Anonymous

          Not exactly, but fair point. I was angry when Apple made that Flash move. It felt arrogant and wrong. Why not let users chose?

          • Roar Shack

            It seems to me if flash were viable on mobile then Android would be using it to mop the floor with iPhone. I think Jobs might have just been the bearer of bad tidings on this one. Though I certainly can’t blame you for feeling like it was an arrogant decision:)

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  • Amber

    ” Apple assumes that I agree with Apple’s point of view on “privacy,” which, I must say, is ridiculous on its face, because the idea of a large corporation (Apple is the largest, in fact) determining in advance what I might want to do with my data is pretty much the opposite of “privacy.”
    Okay, so it is okay for Google to assume the opposite of what the settings are by circumventing them? I’d prefer Apple to error on the side of protecting MY data, and let me shut it off, if I so choose. That is much more preferable then Google assuming I WANT to leak my data to them.

    Please John, really?

    • Anonymous

      Hmmm. I understand what you’re saying. My point is that I know and understand how things work on the “regular web” – and I know how to opt out. i didn’t know that Apple was blocking that in Safari.

      • Amber

        Most users, don’t know. Blocking third party cookies by default is the right thing to do, since most users don’t even know who these third parties are, or what they are doing with our information.

  • Amber

    I’d rather Apple error on the side of protecting my data, and let me choose to allow third party tracking if I choose? This is much better than Google and others making the choice for me that I want to share my data with them.

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  • Jonathan Nichol

    Thanks so much for the post.Really looking forward to read more. Want more.

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  • bin zhang

    You’re not really thick-headed, are you? 

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  • what a crock

    For a smart man, this is a really dumb article.  No-one who uses Safari is prevented from changing the default.  It isn’t Apple’s job to assist Google and others to make money from us via third-party cookies.  Basically saying that it is makes you sound like a shill for Google.

  • Anonymous

    Just trying to disentangle the newspeak here… I presume that by “Open Web” you mean “being trackable by Google”, and by consciously and intentionally restricting opting out of this tracking I’ve exiled myself to some “non-open” ghetto?

    Would an Android user who similarly opts out of cookies (if they are even given the choice) also be dropping out of this “open web”, or is it an Apple-only thing?

  • somethingmissing

    I love how you’re trying to make it sound as though motives are relevant or even determinable here. Does it matter why Apple took the step of blocking third party cookies? Not really, not even if it was done to attack the competition (although considering this has been the default setting in Safari since before Google and Apple were rivals, I think your cheeky little musing on why Apple did this is pretty unsubstantiated). EVEN if the cookie-blocking has less than saintly motives, though, the outcome of greater privacy for users is the same. And if you’re arguing that most Safari users, if they had the whole sordid business of cookies explained to them, would elect to allow ad networks full access, you’re plainly deluded. The business model that assumes by default that uninformed users don’t (or, more worryingly, SHOULDN’T) want privacy is a business model that needs to die. Broken, just like mobile Flash. And remind me – what happened to mobile Flash?

  • Hexx

    good article but I think you are missing the point. once privacy settings are in place, google and other should honour these settings! 

    that’s the main difference, this isn’t about apple vs google, this is about google agains privacy settings. 

    I’m happy with default settings to be ‘block 3rd party cookies’ and that’s the setting I use in other browsers.

  • Sam Shallenberger

    When you close a car door, it normally doesn’t lock.  Apple built a car door that, by default, locks when you close it.  Google has a habit of rifling through unlocked cars for information.  When encountering an Apple car with a locked door, Google picked the lock and rifled through the information.   

    Bad, bad… 

    a.)  Apple (John Battlle)

    b.) Google (Everyone else)

  • Javix21

    F U CK “industry standard practices on the open web”

  • Lord of the Sith

    So Apple tried to prevent Google and others from tracking users, and they’re the bad guy? Oh I don’t think so. Google decided to write code to override the USER preferences. How much is Google paying this guy?? I mean, get real.

    • Anonymous

      How exactly do you define tracking?

      Nuance seems to get lost anytime Apple is called into question.

      • David Weintraub

        Loss of Nuance? This article is about default browser cookies settings, and you brought up Flash. You accused Apple of not participating in the “open web” with no explanations about what you mean by “open web”.

        The fact is very simple: Google overrode a setting that was suppose to prevent this type of tracking in order to do this type of tracking.

        In fact, Google’s whole premise that this was done, so Google’s 1+ buttons would work is not even true.

        The only thing Google couldn’t do is track me as I go from web page to web page. Apparently this was important enough for Google that they purposefully found a way around this type of security.

        • Anonymous

          I agree about the open web question not being defined in the article, though I’ve written about it a lot on this site. My bad. And I agree Google did something that seems wrong on its face. As I said, I have not done what I think most should do – speak to the accused party and hear them out. I think I’ve proven in these pages over the years that I call Google out quite a bit. And I will again should I find their explanation lacking. I’ve not been monitoring this story for a week due to a planned vacation…give me some time, I promise to do my best to give a thoughtful follow up….

          • FlyingJoe

            Based on your blog, and your follow-up comments where you don’t really acknowledge the points made by the readers, but imply you know more, but just haven’t found the words yet… I think that The best you can do in a “thoughtful” follow-up will be to sidetrack us further with some other allusion, like Flash (face it – with Flash, you’re flogging a dead horse and it isn’t even in the same race).

            I’m disappointed to find that it has just been FUD. Now it’s your turn to say I’m close-minded and you have the truth.
            It is just FUD.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, that’s some serious FUD. Spin, spin, spin.

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  • Anonymous

    So Google does bad and you somehow want to make this out to be Apple’s fault. Your a joke.

  • Anonymous

    So Apple’s default setting in Safari goes against your financial interests, and now you’re upset and defending actively going around people’s privacy settings. 

    • Anonymous

      I was not driven by “financial interests” though I certainly acknowledge why you might think I was. We all are in some way or another, but I wrote that post over a week ago because I was questioning Apple and the Journal’s motives. I accept that you question mine, I get it.
      I really believe there will be better ways to deliver marketing messages than what we’ve got now. I worked for six years at FM trying to do marketing differently. And the company is still committed to that. Don’t just judge and dismiss me. I wonder if you have read my thoughts on a data bill of rights? Or followed my years-long call for and defense of an individual’s control over his or her data? It’s as if you assume I am incapable of listening, thinking, learning, nuance.
      I’m not. Are you?

      And if you believe Apple isn’t driven by financial interests, you’re really not paying attention.

      • FlyingJoe

        You are scaring me, Mr. Batelle. You keep bringing Apple into this when everyone here has shown clearly that your arguments on that front are specious. Then make little allusions to “we don’t have the full picture” and now questioning if we are still open-minded if we have inevitably reached the conclusion that somehow you are shilling here.

        It is very manipulative… And face it, your ‘arguments’ and comparisons and red herrings like Flash show me that you are someone who cannot be listened to. Maybe what you are trying to do is distract us long enough to not reset our default “Apple is Bad, Google is Good” programming setting in our brains.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe you missed part of the problem with this controversy, I and most other people who want to protect our information change the browser settings on our computer to only allow 1st party plugins. But Google decided to bypass that system so they could better track my behavior. That’s not disturbing to you? I expressly chose not to have that happen and these arrogant fools decided to just bypass my settings.

    You sound like you’re shilling.

    • Anonymous

      Read the post please. I had not, and still have not spoken with anyone at Google about this. I have been with my family all this past week on vacation. I plan on getting smarter on this and I’ll write more. I’m not shilling. I called Google into question in the post. It sounded wrong to me what they did, and I said that. Once I understand all points of view, I’ll share mine again.

      • Roar Shack

        It appears you didn’t talk to anyone at Apple either but that didn’t stop you from spending most of this post trying to shoehorn Apple into this issue. Incorrectly it seems. I’m sure you aren’t shilling. But Google runs an ad network, you run an ad network.

        • Anonymous

          I’d love to talk to folks at Apple. Any insights on how I might?

          • Roar Shack

            After all the guesswork, assumptions, poor fact checking of this article? Not really no. Maybe start with a mea culpa. Something like- I have objections to some of Apples policies but I really didn’t do my due diligence with this piece, I was on vacation etc…
            But really my main point was the majority of your article was trying to make Apple at fault or bad in some way with little research and soft pedaling Google.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting. I had decided that I didn’t care about this and I didn’t think it warranted an investigation by the DOJ. But after reading your shill article defending Google I’ve changed my mind thanks to the good commentary here. If Google made an agreement to not falsely represent their privacy policies and then was caught lying about it in regards to Safari, then that changes things considerably. Bring on the investigation.

  • Guest

    You don’t make any sense here. I KNOW that Safari is set by default to disallow third-party cookies, and I WANT it that way, so I PURPOSEFULLY don’t change anything, because OUT OF THE BOX Safari acts the way I want it to. So, I don’t understand what you’re implying here; that because Apple is being proactive about  my privacy, that’s bad? Ads a annoying; targeted ads are even more annoying; I don’t want them. So Apple is helping me out here.  You’re suggestion that since these things are set by default means that, what, I have to turn that setting off and then back on again, so then *I* have enabled that setting? That’s stupid. You’re argument here is pro selling my info so advertisers can make more money off of my every move. No. Apple hasn’t done anything wrong; you’re suggesting a world where increasingly the user is bad for not allowing everything about me to be sold and used to throw more and more crap in my face. That’s wrong.

    • Anonymous

      I prefer to think the world will evolve to where you control not just “off or on” but what data, when, and how it might be used.
      I’ve written about this alot on this site.

      • Roar Shack

        Lucky for you that day is here. You can set your browser to accept all cookies, just from sights visited, or all. If you think we should have more choices than that, I think we need to get advertisers to respect our privacy choices first no matter what the defaults are.

        • Anonymous

          I agree.

  • Rick Gigger

    The level of delusion exhibited in this post is fascinating. To the extent that this article is not stupid it is evil and to the extent that it is not evil it is stupid. I would say that it is willfully obtuse in which case it is both.

    When Apple sets a default setting to protect user privacy it is “paternal” and therefor somehow nefarious. But when all the other browsers set a different default setting, one that is financially beneficial to you and detrimental to the users’ privacy then it’s fine? That is what you imply here. So I say to you, Really?

    Supporting the open web means obeying the open specifications for how the web is supposed to work. That includes cookies. Apple does that. But somehow Apple has been nefarious and paternalistic because once again they chose a setting that favors their customers privacy over your paycheck. Really? Google’s culpability here is in some way mitigated and their actions more understandable because Apple somehow broke the “open web” by changing a default setting? Really?

    Somehow in your world, besides your own personal choice of default privacy settings, the “open web” also must include a completely proprietary technology that is also notorious for making it easy to compromise the privacy of people browsing the web.

    I really don’t care why Apple sets that setting the way they do. The fact is that it defaults to protecting my privacy and that is a good thing. I am aware of the implications of that setting and I very consciously leave it alone. For me it is a choice. And yet Google violates my intentions just the same. I don’t care how it interferes with your business model. Apple has been moving the needle towards user privacy ever since Safari 1.0 and if history is any indication the future will more likely than not include all major browsers blocking 3rd party cookies as Safari does now.

    When someone who can write in complete sentences writes something this inane about a hot topic it tends to garner a bit of attention. I can only hope that the sheer stupidity of this article is put to good use by alerting the general public that other browsers have default settings that provide less privacy than Safari, thus pressuring MS and Google to follow Apple’s lead. If that happens you will have done a valuable service to the public.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks – even though your tone is rather dismissive, I think perhaps you have made a point to me – I have not been clear enough in what my objections are with regard to Apple. I have more work to do. I’ll try to do better. And you certainly know very little of the company I started (or my own decades of other work) to make such statements about my motivations. But, that’s the way of the open web, and I embrace it – anyone can say anything, and anyone can be ignored, or listened to, on the merits. I’ll keep listening.

      • Roar Shack

        The only part of this particular story that concerns Apple is the hole in its security. I don’t want Google(or your ad network) to track me with cookies. It’s disheartening to see you seem to prefer that people should have to opt out of your business model than opt in. It’s really tough not writting a flame response here(as you noticed from other posters I’m sure). I’m tempted to quote comedian Bill Hicks’ bit on advertisers. It’s a tad harsh(heh) but posts like yours remind me why I enjoyed that guy so much. I’ve been waiting for your update but It will probably just make me more mad. You said you haven’t been clear about your objections to Apple. In a story about Google exploiting a hole in browsers?
        So disheartening…

      • Anonymous

        Yet lack of knowledge didn’t stop you from ascribing nefarious motives to Apple. Even if those default privacy settings were there in versions of Safari predating both Google’s dependance on third party cookies and Google’s current feud with Apple.  

        Could Apple have put them there because having the most consumer friendly browser (by, amongst other things, caring about their customers’ privacy) would be good for business?

  • Nicola

    Are you nuts?

  • Anonymous

    Quote: “So when is a privacy setting really a privacy setting, I wonder?”

    Well, wonder not more. I’ll tell you when. It’s when I decide upon the setting. Apple took the middle approach: From Third Parties and Advertisers, rather than the extreme: No Cookies, or All Cookies. Seems all the other browsers choose All Cookies as the default. Mmmmm. And you think that is good, better and best?

    I could have chosen No Cookies or All Cookies (which is the automatic choice from FireFox, by the way) but I chose to stick with the middle road. I made that decision after checking out Preference when I first started using Safari just as I changed the default setting in FireFox that allowed (without giving me any choice) any and all cookies. To repeat, what you get from FireFox and others is All Cookies, which is what I guess you consider “Standard” web practices. That isn’t choice anymore than what you claim is a lack of choice from Apple. 

    Apple’s decision is as democratic as the others and far more likely to be the once most users who bother to be in the know, would choose. 

    Are you an Apple hater or did you just fail logics course in high school, John B.

    • Anonymous

      Not a hater, probably failed a logic course. When I get through all the hate directed my way, I’ll try to post a reasoned response.

      • Greg Paulhus

        John, if you were capable of a reasoned response you wouldn’t have written this article in the first place. What you’ll post is another set of poorly thought out excuses.

  • Shalit

    This is the worst argument for a company whose only intent is to violate -better yet, rape – the privacy rights of consumers. BTW, ‘industry standards’ are not excuse to a blatantly invasive behavior. You should know better than that. 

  • Anonymous


    The default cookie blocking feature that Google circumvented was implemented in Safari 1.0, which shipped in 2003—long before Google was in the third-party display advertising business, and long before relations between the companies soured over smartphones.

  • David Weintraub

    I’ve always set all my browsers to not accept third party cookies. This is one of the first things I do when I get a new computer. Was it still okay for Google to do this? Did Google circumvent my privacy settings? Or, was Google correcting an error I had made?

    I’ve asked a lot of non-savvy web users about this issue. Their initial response was “Advertisers can do that?” and “How can I prevent that from happening?”. I bet most users, once they understand the issue would prefer the default setting in Safari.

    I’m also sick and tired of the misappropriation of the word “open”. What part of “the web” did Apple “close off” in doing this? All websites worked just fine when set to either “accept all cookies” or “don’t accept third party cookies”. Heck, even sights with Flash work with the default Safari setting.

    As for me, I’ve decided to drop Google as my default search engine and I will be moving my email server off of Google’s servers. I honestly believed that whole “Don’t be evil” thing! Man what a yutz I was!

  • Robert Taylor

    Dumbest article I’ve ever read. “Open Web” means “accepting 3rd party cookies”? Trololololo. 

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  • bradisrj

    John: I hope you don’t get flamed for your blog post; far too many PC and Mac “fans” get overly bent out of shape with others people’s opinions.  (In fairness, you could say that about many areas of interest: religion, sports teams, etc.)  You did offer the proviso that perhaps you’d didn’t grok something.  Your absolutely correct in that, at least.  I’ve read some good responses in other places (that’s me admitting I didn’t read all the comments), for instance Gruber’s response is pretty even handed, follow the link below if you want to read it.

    Here’s what I think:  I don’t agree with your core premise that Apple has made a suspect decision for us, or is trying to control access to their customers.  The decision is consistent across their browser, Safari, on the desktop – OS X and mobile, IOS.  Based on the knowledge that most users don’t know how to control their privacy and assuming that given a choice they’d like some control, Apple has chosen to provide its customers with a default that stakes out a middle ground.  Google decided to explicitly bypass the privacy setting on those browsers.   That is completely the fault of Google, and I’d argue, par for the course, with regards to their respect (read: lack of) for individuals.  Their customers are Advertisers and their product is aggregate data – privacy settings or no.   I don’t have a problem with their business, I have a problem with them opting me in despite my choice (and I’m a user who does know my privacy settings) not to allow the activity.

    I have long had little regard for Google and their actions only confirm my low opinion.

    As far as Apple goes, they are a major corporation and so I know their motivation in not focused on my well being.  However, so far, their actions support a view that I am their customer and they want to maintain a positive relationship by maintaining the trust of their customers.  I far prefer the company where my transactions with them make me their customer, over a company who is using my transactions with them to the benefit of others – especially when I have so little say in what they (Google and their customers) do “to” me.

    • Anonymous

      I am researching this, but as far as I can tell so far, “bypassing” Safari was common practice, a “hole” existed that Apple knew full well was a way to bypass it, and it didn’t bother to fix the hole. It knew it was used by many companies – including, I have heard, Facebook. I’m learning more and as I have a clearer picture, I’ll write another post.

      • bradisrj

        Apple being aware of a hole, is the same as them being aware of a bug.  It is still wrong for another company to exploit the opening.   “… she was dressing provacatively and was asking for it….”

        I will watch for your next post, but I can’t release Google (and others) from responsibility for bypassing user privacy preferences – whether Apple knew it was possible or not.

        • Anonymous

          I understand your point of view. I think Google acted improperly here, even if “others” were also doing it. Apparently it was an “open secret” and I’ve heard that Facebook was also exploiting it. Trying to get more details…

    • Anonymous

      oooops ….. I see your wearing a Anti Google is the Eye in SkyNet…. Tin Foil hat! lol…. sorry but I really can’t help it when someone is so obviously prejudiced against one company and biased toward another. I’m neither for or against any of these companies, I watch them all like a hawk. Because the reality is you can’t trust any of them and that’s especially true of the Big Five…. Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft!

      So I use VPN and Secure Tunneling Services that encrypts all your traffic when I think it’s important enough. It can make it appear you’re in Spain or UK when your in Egypt or Canada. As consumers today we all have to learn to be a whole lot craftier at using the Web, than they are at figuring out who we really are. Best way? Keep ‘em guessing, remain suspicious of them all, but hold no biases or grudges and be suspicious of them all. Keep track of your privacy settings and always know how to change them fast. 

      Make passwords completely unrecognizable….. even to you. So a glance or even a long they won’t get remembered or stolen and use Copy/paste with them stored in an encrypted secure lock box App. Mix and change them often and make ‘em longest you can. Using all allowable numbers, letters and symbols that are allowed by the site. Remember to make a habit of turning off GPS when you don’t want your location tracked. Because it’s just like remembering to lock your doors and check the windows when leaving your home. 

      Above all don’t take it so personal. Because most of time they aren’t either. When you realize the odds of a human actually seeing and stealing your personal information are nil to none.  The ones that sell or abuse your information don’t deserve to get the right information anyway and there are black and white lists of who’s the best to trust. Most of the time you’re dealing with a dumb machine just like when you call near anyone today. I trust machines a lot more ore than I do humans to look after your best interests. 

      That’s where Tunneling and using aliases on just about everything you do on the web comes in handy. Keep your Anonymity in tact by baffling them all with a little bullshizt and tom foolery. Make it fun!

      Now to John Gruber; that guy has a big mouth and he sometimes uses it to store his foot in. There is perhaps no other blogger on line that’s as single minded and loyal to only Apple on the web as he is.

      This is my first visit here, but I’m liking what JBAT writes so far. Battelle seems to say it like it is, holds no biases, and is willing to attack any side that’s seem to be looking for trouble. To that end, I like his fair approach…… “Don’t just like ONE…. when you can Dislike them all for your own greater good”!!! :D DD  … Yeah I’ll be back!

      • Anonymous

        I’m pleased you like what I write, do come back. I’ll keep writing stuff…

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  • Cheap SSL Certificate

    Really impressed ! Everything is very open and very clear explanation of issues. It contains truly information. Your website is very useful. Thanks for sharing You have nicely presented your thoughts in this blog.

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  • Symantec Secure Site

    I had a great time reading your article and I found it interesting. This is such a beautiful topic that me and my friends are talking about. Thanks for this blog, we are enlightened.

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  • Discit

    If google really cared about user preference, they’re smart people and could have put a notice on their sites or adsites to let users know cookies were off and ask to enable them.
    Google cared more about tracking users silently and without their knowledge it seems and just hacked them, as it was found they did IE as well. They hacked IE too after all and used a different excuse, but along the same lines. If they want to say that IE (Microsoft) and Safari (Apple) were not standard, having user options for privacy, it sounds like google made up their own imagined standard and could have said anything to justify hacking and tracking. Besides, I don’t think people knew google was trying to track their entire web history.

  • Freddywang

    With the release of Safari 7, not only 3rd Party cookie is being blocked. Local Storage as well as WebDB, any kind of website data are being blocked. When you go to Safari Preferences (CMD+comma), Under privacy tab, on Safari 7, it now says : “Block cookies *and other website*”, originally was “Block cookies”. That confirms the changes.