It’s interesting to see how different nations perceive privacy and security issues online. There are many legal cases happening around the world centering on these issues, including a potentially important one in the United Kingdom. The law suit has been brought by a group of UK Apple users who have claimed that their browser data was siphoned off by the Search engine giant.
The specific users all used the Safari browser last year up until February 2012, where they had set up their security preferences to stop websites setting cookies and customising their preferences. It is claimed that Google bypassed these settings, and using a cookie customised the browser to display relevand adverts.
The adverts were of course adsense blocks which are displayed in the upper part of search engine results and also blocks displayed on web sites which use Google Ads to generate additional income. The company initially faced legal action in the US where a consortium successfully sued the company over the very same issue. The case sparked an investigation by the US federal Trade Commission which fined Google about 20 million dollars. Many were very annoyed at the level of the fine which is a fairly trivial amount considering the privacy issues concerned and the size of the company.
The case however did raise awareness and inspired the group of British Apple users to open this seperate case in the UK courts. The legislation and the case centered around the UKs very strict and mature data protection laws. However the defence for the giant is always that – EU privacy rules don’t apply to the company as it is based in the US. It obviously has important repurcussions for all aspects of the internet if a company can simply disregard national rules simply based on it’s location.
The awareness has of course help to improve people’s online habits regarding their online privacy and anonymity – sites like this http://www.onlineanonymity.org/ providing information and links to various tools and privacy software are appearing every day. There is no doubt that the commercialisation of the internet is leading many companies to become increasingly aggressive in using location and personal data. On the same site linked above you can see a page on how VPN software is used to bypass geo blocks to enable users watching BBC Iplayer in Spain for example.