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Important story here about the ongoing battle between Apple and Google. Apple claims that Google circumvented their "privacy safeguards" but +John Battelle has a more accurate story, I think:

http://battellemedia.com/archives/2012/02/a-sad-state-of-internet-affairs-the-journal-on-google-apple-and-privacy.php


"But let’s step back a second here and ask: why do you think Apple has made it impossible for advertising-driven companies like Google to execute what are industry standard practices on the open web (dropping cookies and tracking behavior so as to provide relevant services and advertising)? Do you think it’s because Apple cares deeply about your privacy?

"Really?

"Or perhaps it’s because Apple considers anyone using iOS, even if they’re browsing the web, as “Apple’s customer,” and wants to throttle potential competitors, insuring that it’s impossible to access to “Apple’s” audiences using iOS in any sophisticated fashion? Might it be possible that Apple is using data as its weapon, dressed up in the PR friendly clothing of ”privacy protection” for users?"
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71 comments
 
Now that is a refreshingly honest and sincere post! Thnx +Tim O'Reilly ,-) Thnx for keeping it real!
 
Exactly. Apple is simply more concerned about corralling all Apple users into their locked (not open) environment.
 
a wsj-apple conspiracy? really? john battelle is a smart guy, but he's in the advertising/tracking camp with federated media. google messed up. they know they messed up. they violated browser privacy settings and got caught. the rest is just spin.
 
Let's see should I battle with +John Battelle today? Has he said something ludicrously wrong and unchecked about Apple from his don't- control-me-Jobs, even from the grave perspective? This time he's drinking bourbon while reporting and unable to verify his implications that it's Apples Fault! Rock on Battelle with the Bourbon!

It is very curious how G+ behaves on Safari Mobile and this is likely the reason why -- it seem something was either buggy or protocols were battling each other. Bounce around the desktop and mobile versions of G+ on the iPad to see the oddness at work. So they're trying to set cookies and Safari's blocking them. It seems iOS should block tracking cookies for me to maintain the experience; which has always driven the Job's aesthetic.
 
In my last couple of years at Sun engaging in Brussels, I got wind of a concerted campaign by certain companies to frame Google as the new Big Evil in the eyes of the European Commission. I believe significant sums of money have been spent by incumbent corporations lobbying to position them as the problem that legislation needs to solve. While care has undoubtedly been taken to avoid violations of the Sherman Act, I would love to see some investigations of how stories like this one got framed. In particular, I am fascinated by how quickly Consumer Watchdog was able to get their FTC complaint together and wonder if anyone helped them.

As a digital rights advocate and activist, I am especially concerned not to be be used as a weapon in a cynical war between equally-tainted corporate interests. I don't want my energy, passion and personal investment in this cause to be the collateral damage or the oblivious bullet in these hostilities. This story has all warning signs that make me stand back and reflect.
 
Might it be possible that Apple is using data as its weapon, dressed up in the PR friendly clothing of ”privacy protection” for users?"

ah, yeah I'd say that is a real credible idea.
 
In the infamous words of Charles Platt many years ago, "Where's the Crime?". In these digital times (and even 25 years ago when I had the chance to view the kinds of data they tracked), you'd be mortified to know what credit card companies and other loyalty card schemes do with your information and know about you so, why the scandalization of Google over grabbing your g+ info and sending you more targeted ads?

Perhaps I'm a bit on the side of Battelle thinking there might be more to the story here but, even if there isn't, what exactly defines 'privacy' in this day and age? We leave a huge digital trail wherever we go so it's a fair question, on whose answer is very murky: what is and what isn't off limits? We talk a lot about privacy, but few actually define it and, maybe I'm just an old crank who remembers the first internet ads thinking that, even though I decried them, I knew they were inevitable.
 
Bottom line is that it's a bug in mobile Safari. The form submission was necessary in Safari to communicate back to Google+ in order to know if you were signed in there, but Safari mistakenly interprets this as "visiting the site" in a way that allows the normal ad-cookie stuff to come through as well. Note that the problem does not occur on Safari for the desktop.
 
+Samuel Wood would that explain the oddness of having Mobile Safari's browser cookie preferences changed? I just posted in my profile about this and thought it was an iOS bug.
 
when chrome for android rolls out in a big way when ICS picks up, this won't be necessary. 
 
So wait. I have to pay to get the rest of the story on wsj.com? AAPL and WSJ seem to share business models as well.
 
The simple fact is that the debate over who "evil" is pointless. These are puplicly listed companies who are bound to work in the best interests of their shareholders. That binds them to always push the limits (n Googles case this means privacy, in Apples it's anti-competitiveness) to ensure the growth and dominance of their companies over all others. Microsoft and all the others do the same. They need to. It is our responsibility to ensure Internet diversity by not allowing a single company to dominate a space. They will never regulate themselves.

You would think we would think we would learn our lesson after the masses lead us to the Microsoft tax on every computer sold. Demand diversity.
 
I love it! Apple is in the news for not doing enough to protect the user privacy (the whole Path incident) and in the news again for doing too much. Wow! Rock and hard place.
 
I am a little confused as to why people are seeing Apple as the bad guy here. For whatever reason, it set Safari's defaults to block tracking cookies. Maybe Apple has ulterior motives. Maybe it wants to clear the playing field for its own mobile advertising business. But for us regular folk, more privacy is better, yes?
Marc P
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Just an idea: Google stops supporting Apple like Apple did with Flash...let's see what happens ;)
 
+Dan Tynan cause it's so easy for the #techmediameme to pile on. +13920721823301219308 spit takes his bourbon and then says whatever he wants unverified -- as his opinion no big deal, but then it'll get picked up and RT, and shared, and then becomes "legend.: They do this, like Adobe evangelists, cause they know Apple won't respond and there's always a deference to Google. So, it's ok that Google is hijacking the cookie preferences to ensure that it knows users are logged into their network? I'd rather then NOT do that. Also, as I said in my post about this, Safari Mobile behaves very oddly with G+ and this maybe why.

Then within a few comments the fandroids will arrive with their agenda.

Note: I'm not an iOS programmer and don't know if this has anything to do with that.
David H
 
+Marc P Now that would be an interesting development.

Overall, both Apple and Google (with the ad companies) are to blame. Apple for coddling their users, whom they perceive as to simple to make a good choice (hence the closed system approach) and Google (and company) for breaching the settings, even though the settings may not be what the user wanted.
Any time you have a large companies that get greedy (most large companies) you get to see this type of behavior. It has been going on for years. Now though we have global visibility to the operations of many companies both good and bad.
 
+Elaine ashton Excellent point. :) So true... some of my extensive background is derived from the C/C processing industry. and let's just say... YEAHHH... :)
Marc P
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+David Henry fully agree... I seriously don't like Apple and never have and Google is a large corp too, but I see it as the lesser of two evils...my 1 cent
 
So when Google violates my privacy to make money it's a harmless "industry standard", but when Apple protects my privacy to make money it's "using data as its weapon"?

Maybe instead we should recognize that both of these companies are seeking profits, and support the one whose business model aligns with our interests?
 
+Avram Grumer correct cause a constant narrative here is these guys don't want Apple controlling what they do. And ok, but it taints this piece.
 
Here is Australia we are keen adherents to the "tall poppy syndrome". If you get too big for your boots, we will cut you down to size. It is the reason we have four major banks evenly spread with a strong independent banking sector behind them. It is why we have a reasonably diverse retail sector for our size. It is the reason Starbucks never dominated (and even failed in many states) unlike elsewhere. Some despise our natural tendency to do this but it has benefits and the Internet and tech communities around the world could do to take a few tips from it. Imagine if Google could argue to its shareholders that unleashing another round of invasive privacy breaches would drive a large number of their customers away. Imagine Apple claiming in the AGM that if they keep behaving anti-competitively to other companies instead of working with them, they would actually lose iCrap sales.Suddenly you have companies fighting to sustain their brands long term and form genuine working cooperatives rather than dominate, Empire style. Then the landscape changes.

When super-popularity and unchecked dominance is seriously bad for business and hurts your brand these tech companies would need to change their ways. Until then, it's a pointless battle.
 
Just to provide a little more insight into the debate, Apple has and employs very similar ad targeting methods that +Google does. Take a look at their capabilities: http://advertising.apple.com/brands/

As an ad buyer, it's similar to Google, Facebook, WPP, Adobe, and many more. So when Apple says this privacy line, it comes across as complete bullshit to me.
chad o
 
"Industry Standard" doesn't mean OK. There is a lot of tracking and monitoring gong on that people don't want to see happening. And lots of people use addons like adblock and betterprivacy to stop tracking.

Anyway, if Google is exploiting a bug, then anyone can. Apple should fix it.
Marc P
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One thing has to be said: Google finances itself over this data it collects, it offers a load of great tools for free, the price being this information, I pay this willingly, as I love these services. What does Apple give you for free? Nothing AND it collects your data on top...
 
+Marc P well let's see, shall someone list all the Apple software that comes for free with OSX or the apps that ship with the iPhone or the amount of storage on iCloud. Or that OSX costs like what 30.00 now for an upgrade? iPhoto perhaps?
Marc P
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Once you buy an Apple device, yes
Marc P
 
+DL Byron you do not need to buy a Nexus to access the Google services... the Apple services are not free
 
+Marc P so? What does that have to do with Google hijacking cookies to make sure it knows if mobile users are logged in? You don't need an iPhone for a host of apple services either, like iCloud or MobileMe before that.
 
re "Apple considers anyone using iOS, even if they’re browsing the web, as 'Apple’s customer'"...

Well they're certainly not Google's customer. Google's customers are the advertisers. The users are Google's product.
 
Apple will do anything to control the experience of using their devices. Google will do anything to know more about you. Which is worse is a matter of perspective.
Marc P
 
+DL Byron I was merely pointing out that that is Google's business model, the use of the information they gather. It is not Apple's primary business model. So if you don't agree with that Google model, you should not be here (not you in person ppl in general) just as I do not agree with Apple's business model and so I don't use their services/products. You will not want to argue that Google hosts a much larger amount of free services, the ones you named by Apple are all also available by Google too. I find it completely valid for Google circumventing the blocking of their cookies, just as it was Apples right to block flash.
Marc P
 
+DL Byron no they don't and by the way icloud only works with IOS, so how am I supposed to use this great free service now? Install IOS on my PC? Both are corporations and as it is with corporations they act in their best interests. It is up to us to choose the lesser evil and in that respect, for a vast amount of reasons, I do believe Google is the lesser evil yes.
 
+Tim O'Reilly I don't see the comparison in +John Battelle's argument the same way. If I set my browser options to block all cookies or just third party ones, I expect that to be honored. If I choose to allow Google or anyone else to know more about me, that's a choice I can make. Didn't I see a post on this at BoingBoing* this morning about Google+ exposing Cory Doctorow's private Google account?

I don't see any value in breaking faith with people. Google is profitable, no? Are they out of ideas? Or just so big they can't keep track of who's doing what anymore?

* http://boingboing.net/2012/02/17/wsj-google-caught-circumventi.html
Marc P
 
+DL Byron it is off topic BUT:
Note: To create an iCloud account you need an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch with iOS 5, or a Mac with OS X Lion
 
In the two days I have followed you I have read two really kick ass stories about things I actually care about deeply. In short you rock ;)
 
+Dan Tynan Do you really think Apple is interested in your privacy? They are interested in controlling access to you. That's the bottom line. They want all access to go through them, and are hostile not just to Google but to the web in general.
 
+paul beard Maybe I'm misunderstanding but I thought it was Apple setting this as the default (to block ad-based apps and businesses), not users setting this as a matter of their own choice.
 
+Michael Goodness I think you've got it right. It's a battle for control. But in this case, I think Google is trying to add value, while Apple is trying to subtract it.
 
+Marc P are we done now, cause I'm still using an iOS device and I'm sure you've got an Android one.
Marc P
 
+DL Byron I believe we are... see you around, Sith;) (only joking, cool discussion...)
 
Wow, 54 comments and only +Khürt Williams mentions Path (or I miss something). Come on ... it was 2 days ago, it was again about the default Apple privacy settings, it was about your whole private address book silently loaded on a remote corporate server.
I agree with +Tim O'Reilly - these are parts of the same corporate control battle led on multiple fronts - patents, privacy, labor conditions ... Sadly, a battle for not who is the better, but who is the worse.

And this "shocking discovery" of a shady practice which existed and was used by the ad networks since the beginning of the iPhones is coming exactly 2 days after the "shocking discovery" about Path.
Well done WSJ!
 
+Ivan Pavlov I'm still trying to figure out why Battelle blames Apple and defends Google, cause the open web defaults to tracking? WTF? Did he support Address Book scraping too?
 
+DL Byron I think he just reacts on the heavy biased story of WSJ. It's an old news, something so common - as Battelle says "industry standard", one of those (dirty) tricks that you simply must use if you want to stay in the (dirty) ad industry. And it is presented as something never-seen and Google specific.
I personally have a lot to say about the Google adwords' (hidden) policies - I tried to get into it at the beginning and quilted disgusted.
Thanks god, I can do my living without it.
However I've lived enough time in a regime for which the half-truths, agitation, propaganda, disinformation and contra-disinformation (simply said - brain washing) were the main information policies, so I get sick every time when I see it - and recently this happens more and more. Are all of the PR agents of the big corporations educated in Moscow ?
 
+Tim O'Reilly I can't recall if Mobile Safari has the same setting to block 3rd party/advertiser cookies as the OS X version. That said, that option is what I would choose (and have chosen on the desktop). I'm not sure I accept that someone is adding value (as you suggest Google is doing) if they are circumventing my preferences.
 
+Tim O'Reilly Sorry for the additional post but the iOS client for g+ doesn't let me edit old comments. So I looked and there is a setting for cookies in mobile safari with the options being Always/Visited/Never. I have Visited set. This should only permit sites I have visited to market to me.

And for all the comments attacking iOS and Apple, I'm pretty sure Cory Doctorow isn't running iOS or os x and, as noted, he has found some odd behavior with google exposing a private account. So let's shine the light in the right place: if different OS platforms are similarly circumvented, it's probably not an OS-specific problem. 
 
+Tim O'Reilly Do I think Apple is interested in my privacy? Not in the least. And it seems Google isn't either. I am far from an Apple fanboy, but in this case Apple's self interest (for whatever motivation) benefits me, a privacy seeking Netizen. Google's actions do not. When Apple abuses its own browser in order to serve up tracking ads, then we can all bash them together.

As some here have noted, Google is the target of a concerted, well financed smear campaign. I find evidence of that nearly every day in my inbox. But they brought this entirely upon themselves.
Marc P
 
+Dan Tynan you must be honest though, if you are truly seeking privacy, you should not really be here or on the web, no offense ;)
 
Wall Street Journal: Murdoch's latest riches-to-rags journalism charade.
 
+Marc P Well, of course, if you want privacy you should never leave the house or interact with anyone. But there is no perfect privacy anymore than perfect safety. What I suspect +Dan Tynan means is that he wants to control how his information is used and by whom and if he cannot rely on controls that are labeled as privacy controls, there is something wrong.

I don't know if I would argue that Google is being smeared anymore than Apple or any other successful tech company, especially not if there is proof of their miscalculations or bad faith. Suspicion — "Google ignores your wishes" — is one thing: evidence that they are ignoring them is another.
 
Tim -

I think you miss a big point. The open web is broken - when a user browsing a web site can no longer tell who is doing what behind the scenes. The IFRAME and JavaScript techniques Google and almost every other social media site are using expose end users to XSS attacks from others.

We need to find a better way to handle identity than cookies, and third-party cookies. In fact we can use services like Akamai to avoid needing to put down a cookie at all to track a user across the web, but ethically does that make it any better? A user deserves an open and transparent experience within their control. Is Apple doing the right thing - no. Is Google + - no. Is the open web wild west secure - no. Let's openly talk about what companies are doing and how we can fix it correctly.
 
+David Stahl Good points but is subscribing to Akamai's web (or any other content delivery network, if that's the correct term) taking us back to a walled garden, tended by a single proprietor? (This is one of the things that puzzles me about apps for websites vs optimized webpages in a browser: how are they not the AOL experience, all over again?)

How would a solution that uses smarter clients that can tell us parts of the content we are looking at came from what sources and what we gave away to get it work? Hasn't conventional network wisdom been in favor of dumb networks and smart clients?

Thinking of something like a DOM but one that displays the transactional layer, rather than just rendering and stylesheet information. If I browse to a page on site A, what pieces of that page came from sites B, C, and D, what cookies were set, and how many of them were previously set vs newly created? I think Chrome has a plugin (Ghostery?) that displays some of that but like so many warnings, you get desensitized to it and tune it out. Are there other/better tools?

As the caffeine kicks in harder, I think an audit tool that can pull in your browser history and any cookie databases and compare them to a reliable central registry that looks at where users went, how user data is handled there — what sites ask for, how they keep it, and who they partner with — would be interesting. EFF would a good candidate to build and maintain the registry. Maybe the parsing tools as well?

I wondered 15 years ago why these various internet metrics companies didn't just use browser histories to report on usage: if they could be anonymized and submitted, it would far more accurate than any samples or other hacks.
 
This is very healthy conversation, everyone is entitled his/her opinion on the subject..
 
See the latest photo in my profile for a screenshot of the change Google made. Can't plus a website with your iPhone. 
 
+Dan Tynan I left this comment on your blog post, most of which I agree with except for one assertion.

_Do all social media services upload your address book w/o permission? I have often been asked when visiting a site for the first time to give my email address but often someone I know has done so first. Or one might be asked to supply their Twitter ID which would allow a service to pull a list of your followers to build out your network. I suspect "non-journalist" Arrington is wrong on the pervasiveness of this and forgets how many other ways a service can build out a contact list without accessing your device's data.

Why, look: just down the page I can authenticate with all these services, all of which have contact details that ITWorld can mine._

Still surprised to see this defended but notably it's by those whose income depends on it. I would like to be a fly on the wall at the next Happy Mutants board meeting when Mssrs Doctorow and Battelle discuss this.
 
Apple is going for the nonconformist tact. I am surprised Safari doesn't have a Terms of Use for using the internet that explains in detail why the experience doesn't conform with Apples standards.
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