Microsoft accuses Google of bypassing user security settings

22/02/2012

Microsoft and Google have becoming locked on a war of words, with Google accused of tricking Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser into tracking users via cookies, even if the user has disabled them. In response, Google has claimed Microsoft's 10-year-old security system is obsolete on the modern Internet.

microsoft%20vs%20google.jpg

Microsoft details in a blog post how Google is "circumventing the privacy preferences of Internet Explorer users".

Microsoft accuses Google of bypassing P3P, (Platform for Privacy Preferences), an official Internet standard that sites can use to tell browsers how their privacy policies work.

Google is already facing allegations that the company circumvented privacy settings in Apple's Safari browser to plant cookies on users (as highlighted in the Wall Street Journal infographic).

"We've found that Google bypasses the P3P Privacy Protection feature in IE," Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Internet Explorer said in a blog post. The result is similar to the recent reports of Google's circumvention of privacy protections in Safari, even though the actual bypass mechanism Google uses is different, he added.

IE by default blocks third-party cookies unless a site presents to the browser a P3P Compact Policy Statement describing how the site will use the cookie and pledging not to track the user. Third party cookies are those dropped by domains other than the one in the user's browser address bar.

Google sends a P3P policy that fails to inform the browser about Google's use of cookies and user information, and is in fact a text statement that it is not a P3P policy, Hachamovitch said.

The company is taking advantage of a technical nuance in the P3P specification, as in an attempt to leave room for future advances in privacy policies, the P3P specification states that browsers should ignore any undefined policies they encounter, he said. "P3P-compliant browsers interpret Google's policy as indicating that the cookie will not be used for any tracking purpose or any purpose at all," Hachamovitch said.

Microsoft security ‘out of date’?

Google's senior vice president of communications and policy, Rachel Whetstone, countered in an emailed statement that Microsoft's policy is "widely non-operational".

Newer cookie-based features are broken by the Microsoft implementation in IE, Google said.

These include features such as Facebook "Like" buttons, the ability to sign-in to websites using a Google account, and hundreds more modern web services. It is well known that it is impractical to comply with Microsoft's request while providing this web functionality, Google added.

Google said it has been open about its approach on P3P, and so have other websites including Facebook.

The cookies Google uses to secure and authenticate an user's Google account, and store his preferences, may be served from a different domain than the website the user is visiting, Google said on its support site.

"The P3P protocol was not designed with situations like these in mind. As a result, we've inserted a link into our cookies that directs users to a page where they can learn more about the privacy practices associated with these cookies," it added.

Whetstone also referenced a Facebook statement on its website, that the P3P standard is now out of date and does not reflect technologies that are currently in use on the web, so most websites currently do not have P3P policies.

"The organization that established P3P, the World Wide Web Consortium, suspended its work on this standard several years ago because most modern web browsers do not fully support P3P," it added.

Facebook social plugins are built and designed to protect privacy by providing users with social experiences on other websites without requiring any additional cookies to be set, the company said in a statement. "Therefore, our P3P policy is not intended to enable us to set additional cookies or to track users," it added.

<< Back to today’s Digital Intelligence news

Copyright ©2000-2019 Digital Strategy Consulting Limited | All rights reserved | This material is for your personal use only | Using this site constitutes acceptance of our user agreement and privacy policy