Google has confessed to exploiting a loophole in the security settings of Apple's Safari internet browser, allowing it to monitor user behaviour - but has defended itself against allegations of privacy violation.
The search giant developed a 'workaround' to circumvent Safari's security measures in order to implant a cookie to collect information, leading to accusations that it had gone against the wishes of internet users who didn't wish to be tracked. However, Google has insisted that all intelligence was recorded anonymously.
The outcry is the latest of several data-related criticisms levelled at Google.
San Francisco-based pressure group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said in a statement: "Google, the time has finally come. You need to make a pro-privacy offering to restore your users' trust... it's time to commit to giving users a voice about tracking and then respecting those wishes."
Data collected anonymously
The issue was first revealed by the Wall Street Journal. In its defence, Google said that the report 'mischaracterises what happened and why'.
A spokesperson said: "We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. It's important to stress that these advertising cookies do not collect personal information."
Safari is the most commonly-used browser among smartphone users, installed within all iPads and iPhone models produced by Apple. It blocks third party cookies - bits of data which record internet activity - by default. Google bypassed this setting to create a link between its servers and Safari, but claims all information travelling by this link was non-personal. It also pointed out that Safari's setup allowed it to create the link.
Daniel Nolan, managing director of theEword, said: "Online privacy is an extremely sensitive topic and Google has once again made a move which has touched a nerve - leading to outrage from several quarters.
"However, it is important to read all sides of the story and not just the headlines. Google has admitted that it bypassed Safari's settings, but insists that it did so in a way that didn't involve spying on the activities of individual users and collecting identifiable personal details."