Google Sued For Tracking Apple Safari Users

Last week tech giant Google Inc. (GOOG) was sued for violating users’ privacy rights on Apple Inc.’s Safari Web browser.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Google, the world’s largest internet search company, and three others, were tracking people’s online behavior in Safari.

A graduate student and researcher at Stanford University,  Jonathan Mayer, discovered the Google glitch, which was bypassing computer privacy settings in Safari. He said that unlike every other browser vendor, Apple’s Safari automatically blocks tracking cookies generated by websites that users visit.

Safari settings were designed to block cookies, or small pieces of code, that can be used to follow users’ activities on the Web.  Apple’s Safari is one of the most popular browsers for mobile devices, and the default browser on Macs, and Apple’s iPhone and iPad products.

The case, Matthew Soble v. Google Inc., was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware. Soble is seeking class-action status for his suit, which was filed on behalf of individuals “whose default privacy settings on the web browser software produced by Apple, known as Safari, were knowingly circumvented by Google,” according to the suit.

Google’s actions also prompted Consumer Watchdog to send a letter to the FTC today demanding action against the Internet- search provider.

The case has also gotten lawmaker’s attentions. Three legislators have called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.

“I fully intend to look into this matter and determine the extent to which the practice was used by Google and other third parties to circumvent consumer choice,” West Virginia Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement.

“We are taking immediate steps to address concerns, and we are happy to answer any questions regulators and others may have,” Google’s Gaither said in an e-mailed response.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, whatever the motivations, the episode represents a huge privacy whiff for a company already facing growing regulatory scrutiny, public mistrust and mounting competition. Second, it’s another stark reminder that our nation’s largely voluntary digital privacy regimen is woefully insufficient.

Google has drawn regulatory scrutiny and pressure from consumer advocates for the way it handles personal information. Last year, it agreed to settle claims with the Federal Trade Commission that Google used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy policies when it introduced its Buzz social- networking service in 2010.