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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Search Giant Google Hit Out At P3P Claims

Search giant Google has defended its bypassing of privacy protection in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. The latter complained that the search engine was blocking a feature in the browser that stops cookies from tracking users.

Internet Explorer by default blocks 3rd-party cookies unless a website presents to it a P3P Compact Policy Statement telling how the website would use the cookie and asking not to track the user. Nevertheless, the search giant sends a P3P policy which failed to inform the Internet Explorer about Google’s use of cookies and user data, which is actually a text statement that it isn’t a P3P policy.

The company has defended its actions saying that P3P is considered impractical to comply with while allowing modern Internet functionality like cookie-based features. Google benefited from a technical feature in the P3P specification that has to leave room for future developments of privacy policies. The P3P specification reads that web browsers should ignore any undefined policies they face, but P3P compliant browsers regard Google’s policy as indicating that the cookie won’t be used for a tracking or any other purpose.

Rachel Whetstone, senior vice president of communications and policy for Google told in the interview that Microsoft’s policy was actually “non-operational”. She explained that new cookie-based features are broken by the company’s implementation in Internet Explorer. For example, things like social networks’ “Like” buttons and the ability to sign-in to online services using a Google account are all triggered by P3P.

Whetstone also said that it was well-known among the developers that it was largely impractical to comply with Microsoft’s demand while providing this Internet functionality. The search giant has been honest and open about its approach on P3P, and so have other online services including Facebook. The company uses cookies in order to secure and authenticate the subscriber’s Google account, and to store their preferences, which might be served from another domain than the site the user is visiting.

Nobody could even dream about it when the P3P protocol was invented. So the search giant had to insert a link into cookies directing the Internet users to a page where they could read more about the privacy practices associated with the cookies.

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