It's a browser privacy crapfest!

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Google could respect IE's privacy settings, but it doesn't

Hey Google, how's that whole "don't be evil" thing working out for you? What's that?

You were caught circumventing the security settings in Apple's Safari and Mobile Safari browsers along with your non-evil pal Facebook? Blimey. That sounds a little bit evil if you ask me.

Wait - what? You've been doing it to Internet Explorer users too? Wow! That's even more evil! Do you have to wear a special evil hat when you do that kind of stuff?

In its defence, Google says that Microsoft's privacy settings aren't implemented properly and that respecting people's privacy options in Internet Explorer would break Google's various services. In other words, if respecting users' privacy settings gets in the way of Google from tracking or slapping an ad on a single atom of the entire known universe, screw your settings and screw your privacy.

But Google isn't the only bad guy here.

Nobody's smelling of roses

Microsoft can't exactly climb on its high horse. Google points out that a widely publicised 2010 study found more than 10,000 sites were circumventing IE's privacy policy settings, so this is an issue Microsoft has known about for more than a year.

We're not talking about obscure sites, either: the study named AOL, Amazon, Facebook and some of Microsoft's own websites as offenders. Cynics might wonder why such a well-publicised privacy loophole has remained unaddressed for so long.

So on one side you've got Google - and others; Facebook does it and Amazon did until very recently - deliberately bypassing major browsers' privacy settings, and on the other you've got an enormous privacy loophole that's been left unpatched for more than a year. It doesn't exactly give you a warm fuzzy feeling about the tech industry, does it?

Google hasn't just been evil here: it's been stupid. US tech firms exist in an environment of very loose regulation, and so far privacy is something that tech firms take care of themselves: the P3P standard Microsoft supports isn't mandatory or regulated in any way, and firms are perfectly entitled - legally, if not ethically - to take the mickey out of that standard if they wish.

By doing so, though, firms are telling the wider world that self-regulation doesn't work - so they're fuelling demands for government intervention. By trying to eliminate a minor hassle, Google may just have given itself a major headache.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.