Google Counters Microsoft Allegations on Browser Privacy Tools

Google Inc. attempted to counter Microsoft Corp.’s allegations that it sidestepped privacy settings in the Internet Explorer Web browser by saying that the policies in question are “widely non-operational.”

Microsoft had said in a blog post yesterday that Google is circumventing certain privacy settings and tracking users of the Internet Explorer browser with so-called cookies, which keep tabs on what people do on the Web. The tool cited by Microsoft asks websites to disclose information about their privacy practices.

“It is impractical to comply with Microsoft’s request while providing modern Web functionality,” Google said in an e-mailed statement. “Today the Microsoft policy is widely non-operational.”

More than 11,000 websites were not providing the information as requested by Microsoft, Google said, citing research from 2010.

Google, owner of the world’s largest search engine, is grappling with concerns from privacy groups and government officials around the world over how it uses information about Web surfers. A Stanford University study released last week said Google violated users’ privacy on Apple Inc.’s Safari browser through its DoubleClick ad network.

In yesterday’s blog post, Microsoft said its Internet Explorer browser blocks third-party software called cookies, unless a site presents a recognized policy statement indicating how the site will use the cookie and will avoid user tracking. The “P3P” policy statement is derived from a Web standards body.

Google bypasses this “P3P” privacy setting in Microsoft browsers, Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft said. The company’s new Internet Explorer 9 has an additional privacy feature that is not susceptible to this type of bypass.

Still, thousands of websites are not using P3P standards requested by Microsoft, according to a report by Carnegie Mellon University that was cited in the Google statement. Google, based in Mountain View, California, said Microsoft began using the protocol in its browser in 2002.

-- Editors: Tom Giles, James Callan

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