Google hits back at Microsoft's IE cookie complaint

Microsoft is accusing Google of conning Internet Explorer to track you as you surf the net -- but Google has hit back.

Microsoft is accusing Google of conning Internet Explorer to track you as you surf the web. But Google has hit back, claiming Microsoft's security is obsolete in today's Internet.

Wading into controversy about Google's placing of advertising cookies, Microsoft details in a blog post how Google is "circumventing the privacy preferences of Internet Explorer users".

In an attempt to persuade more web users to switch to the latest version of Internet Explorer, Microsoft accuses Google of finagling P3P, or Platform for Privacy Preferences, an official Internet standard that sites can use to tell browsers how their privacy policies work.

Google counters that the ten-year-old P3P system is obsolete and hardly used on today's Internet, pointing out that Facebook doesn't bother with it either.

Rachel Whetstone, Google's senior VP of communications, told us that Microsoft "omitted important information from its blog post today" and claimed, "It is well known -- including by Microsoft -- that it is impractical to comply with Microsoft's request while providing modern web functionality." New web technology such today's cookies, the Google+ +1 button and Facebook Like button break IE's P3P protection.

Whetstone also points out that Microsoft has for some time recommended the method used by Google as a workaround to sidestep the outdated P3P system.

Microsoft checked out IE after the Google was discovered sidestepping Safari security , which is the most the most interesting thing to happen to Safari, like, ever. The results are the same, but Google uses different methods to sneak past each browser.

Safari does not allow cookies to track you around the web unless you opt in, but Google tricks the browser into thinking cookies from its advertising network DoubleClick are okay. Meanwhile Internet Explorer checks whether cookies have a P3P policy attached, a kind of warning label made up of program code that tells the browser what the cookies will be used for. Google includes a P3P policy, but doesn't put the right code in it, fooling the browser into thinking all's well.

Think of Google's cookies as people going on holiday. They're in the airport holding passport covers -- without an actual passport inside -- but IE's passport officers just see the cover and wave them through.

To counter this, Microsoft highlights its Tracking Protection feature, which lets you opt out of tracking by Google and other companies. Click here if you're reading this in IE and you want to put an end to Google's cookies.

Tracking Protection is found in Internet Explorer 9, which reveals Microsoft's true motive in drawing attention to this issue: Microsoft wants to convince us we need to use IE 9 in order to protect ourselves from privacy problems.

How important is privacy to you? Is Google right to bypass security features in order to provide new services? Which browser do you use, and do you choose a browser based on security? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook page.

About the author

Rich Trenholm is a senior editor at CNET where he covers everything from phones to bionic implants. Based in London since 2007, he has travelled the world seeking out the latest and best consumer technology for your enjoyment.


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