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Google Outed - Again - For Being 'helpful'

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Well another push-pull of the software-privacy battle has made mainstream media: Google's iPhone Tracking by Julia Angwin And Jennifer Valentino-Devries, Wall Street Journal, 17-February-2012. And in response Google has 'discontinued' the hack.


Google Inc. and other advertising companies have been bypassing the privacy settings of millions of people using [safari] on their iPhones and computers...


The companies used special computer code that tricks Apple's Safari Web-browsing software into letting them monitor many users. Safari, the most widely used browser on mobile devices, is designed to block such tracking by default.


...found that ads on 22 of the top 100 websites installed the Google tracking code on a test computer, and ads on 23 sites installed it on an iPhone browser.


The technique reaches far beyond those websites, however, because once the coding was activated, it could enable Google tracking across the vast majority of websites. Three other online-ad companies were found using similar techniques: Vibrant Media Inc., WPP PLC's Media Innovation Group LLC and Gannett Co.'s PointRoll Inc.


Note: interesting sidebar list of companies using the 'bypass' code.


A few points worth making:

* this Safari 'hack' is not new.

* there are multiple browser hacks in use by various ad networks, sites, marketing agencies mostly designed to aid tracking, especially of those who would rather not be.

* Google is having a privacy identity crisis that could have serious consequences.

* Google is between the rock of a plateauing in ad revenue and the hard place of quarterly investor expectations. I expect that they will continue pushing boundaries all over the place.

* the actual ROI of many/most ad remarketing efforts is pitiful. Advertisers are more buying into the idea of it than because it works. Note: there are exceptions.

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Google is between the rock of a plateauing in ad revenue...
I am really really surprised that no other company has mounted a significant challenge to Adsense. I think that the people at Microsoft and other potential challengers sat on their butts while Google ran away with the golden egg. Advertising growth and an aggressive effort at search by FaceBook could put some pressure on the Google revenue stream. I have always thought that Google has more downside risk than upside opportunity - but so far I have been wrong.

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