Google is being accused of stealthily handing personal data to advertisers by using hidden web pages, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday (Sept. 4).
Such activity violates Google’s own rules while also dodging European Union policy, which requires permission and transparency, a smaller rival web browser told the news outlet.
The Irish data regulator tasked with supervising Google's European business has evidence that charges Google with “exploiting personal data without sufficient control or concern over data protection,” the report said.
Johnny Ryan, chief policy officer for web browser Brave, said he discovered the secret web pages after trying to find out how his own personal data was being used on Google's advertising exchange, according to the report.
Formerly known as DoubleClick, Google’s exchange is now known as Authorized Buyers. It is said to be the world's largest real-time advertising auction house for the internet.
Ryan discovered he was labeled with a tracker that was handed over to third-party companies via a hidden web page. The hidden page had no content but directly linked to his browsing activity.
The Google tracker is based on location and time of browsing and lets firms correlate their profiles of Ryan against his web-browsing activity in order to better target advertisements.
According to the report, Ryan found a half-dozen different pages using his identifier after he had spent an hour on Google's Chrome browser. He said the identifier used the words “google_push” and was given to a minimum of eight adtech companies.
“This practice is hidden in two ways: the most basic way is that Google creates a page that the user never sees, it's blank, has no content, but allows ... third parties to snoop on the user and the user is none the wiser,” said Ryan. “I had no idea this was happening. If I consulted my browser log, I wouldn't have had an idea either.”
Google said it is cooperating with investigations in Ireland and the U.K. into its advertising business but had not seen the details of Ryan’s accusations. “We do not serve personalized ads or send bid requests to bidders without user consent,” the spokesperson told the paper.
Google said in August it wants to limit how marketers and advertisers track people online and proposed a change to how cookies work in its web browser Chrome. This could mean that eventually, a user would be able to have a little more control over how they are tracked.