Google in hot water with Congress over Safari tracking

Google is finding itself in trouble with Congress again, after it exploited a flaw in Apple's Safari browser to track users without their consent. California Representative Mary Bono Mack, who moderated a discussion with Google two weeks ago, is demanding that Google reappear before Congress to explain the tracking controversy, as reported by USA Today.

The following statement appeared on Bono Mack's website:

Google has some tough new questions to answer in the wake of this latest privacy flap, and that’s why I am asking them to come in for another briefing. Even if unintentional, as the company claims, these types of incidents continue to create consumer concerns about how their personal information is used and shared. Companies need to be open about what they’re collecting, and how that information is used. Just as importantly, this needs to be clearly communicated to consumers. While I am determined to get to the bottom of this, some of it simply may be ‘growing pains.’ That’s why it’s important to sit down and figure out how we can better protect consumer privacy in the future.

Meanwhile, Congressmen Edward J. Markey and Joe Burton, co-Chairmen of the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, and Cliff Sterns, Chariman of the Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations, are asking the FTC to look into whether or not Google's tracking constitutes a violation of Congress' recent order restricting Google from misrepresenting its privacy policies. If that's not bad enough for Google, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller seems interested in looking into the issue, too.

Google has been in the spotlight during the past few weeks over controversial changes it made to its privacy policy, which include centralizing data collection over all of Google's services. The new controversy started a few days ago when a blog post by grad student Jonathan Mayer regarding Google's exploitation of Safari got picked up by the Wall Street Journal (and they say bloggers aren't journalists).

Google isn't the only company that's been using the flaw; advertising groups like Vibrant Media and Gannett PointRoll have been using the flaw, which works by tricking Safari into believing that the user is voluntarily submitting a nonexistent form to the advertiser.

For his part, blogger Jonathan Mayer took discovery of the exploit as a chance to criticize Google's 'don't be evil' slogan – who saw that one coming? Speaking to CBS News correspondent John Blackstone (who, by the way, got Google's slogan wrong – it's don't be evil, John, not 'do no evil'), he said that although he's “[hesitant] to give a bright line response on the evil or not,” he does think that if “evil includes negligence and gross negligence, then this is evil.” Poor Google.

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