It's Not Just Google: Everyone Tracks Everyone on the Internet

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Currently Google and Microsoft are battling it out via passive aggressive statements over who is in the wrong in this whole user privacy tracking ordeal, when of course, both of them, along with the rest of the tech giants, are doing the same wrong things.  After learning that Google tracks iPhone users via Safari, we learned Google and others, including Facebook, bypass similar settings on Internet Explorer. With everyone throwing around the phrase "violated privacy settings," it sounds like we're living in a scary Big Brother-esque mess, where all these technology companies disregard important privacy policies and track users, compromising personal data. It sounds scary, it's not. Or rather, it's now standard practice.

When Google's not tracking users on Safari, Apple is. And, thousands of companies bypass Internet Explorer's cookie settings, arguably because the policy is archaic, as Tech Policy's Lorrie Faith Cranor explains. "The excuse everyone uses to justify this circumvention is that P3P is dead and IE breaks the cool things they want to do on their website, so therefore it is ok to circumvent browser privacy controls," she writes. And, Google indeed uses that very logic in its spatty statement defending itself: "Today the Microsoft policy is widely non-operational. A 2010 research report indicated that over 11,000 websites were not issuing valid P3P policies as requested by Microsoft," it said in a post via Paris Lemon

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Of course, just because everyone is doing it doesn't make it right. But, this type of tracking isn't generally used for super-duper evil, which Business Insider's Matt Rosoff admits after a lengthy blog post freaking out about the privacy breach. "Like the Safari snafu, this is pretty small time stuff as far as privacy goes. Tracking cookies have been around for years, their behavior is well known, they're easy to block, and the information they deliver -- your browsing history -- usually doesn't contain personally identifiable information," he writes. 

But hearing that a tech company covertly sidestepped another's privacy policy scares us, because these policies are theoretically there to protect our data. Taking a closer look at any of these policies will reveal that they don't particularly care about our privacy. Straight from the Apple site, for example: "Apple and our partners also use cookies and other technologies to remember personal information when you use our website, online services, and applications. Our goal in these cases is to make your experience with Apple more convenient and personal." Convenient and personal are the flip-side to private and anonymous. There are settings to protect privacy, but they are not the default. But, that's what happens in a self-regulating system, as Cranor points out. 

 So, if you don't like P3P, how about asking Microsoft to take P3P out of their browser? Or how about going back to the W3C (the organization that standardized P3P) and asking them to declare it dead? I suspect nobody wants to do that because it might call into question the effectiveness of industry self regulation on privacy.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.