We need higher privacy standards

Industry insiders defend Google's Safari hack and Path's phonebook theft as standard industry practices. We can -- and must -- do better than that.

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Some blamed Apple for letting this happen, thanks to an API that allowed developers to dip into people’s phones and scoop out their address books, despite the fact Apple’s guidelines specifically prohibit this practice.

Apparently giving app developers access to users’ phonebooks is like leaving Rosie alone with a plate full of Girl Scout Cookies. Is it really their fault they lack all self control?

Privacy snafu #2. Google goes on Safari

Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer revealed that Google was deliberately bypassing default privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser to deposit third-party tracking cookies, and three other major ad networks followed suit, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

John Battelle, founder of online ad company Federated Media, questioned whether Google was in the wrong for following “common Web practice.”

Google circumvented Safari’s default settings by using some trickery described in this WSJ blog post, which reports the main reason Google did what it did was so that it could know if a user was a Google+ member, and if so (or even if not so), it could show that user Google+ enhanced ads via AdSense.

In short, Apple’s mobile version of Safari broke with common web practice,  and as a result, it broke Google’s normal approach to engaging with consumers. Was Google’s “normal approach” wrong? Well, I suppose that’s a debate worth having – it’s currently standard practice and the backbone of the entire web advertising ecosystem –  but the Journal doesn’t bother to go into those details. One can debate whether setting cookies should happen by default – but the fact is, that’s how it’s done on the open web.

Amazingly, other big Web 2.0 thinkers like Tim O’Reilly agreed with Battelle.

In other words, it’s ok for Google to circumvent users’ privacy settings because a) it was Safari’s default setting, not truly users’ choice, and thus doesn’t really count, and b) everyone else does it.

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