Internet Explorer, by default, is set to block all third-party tracking cookies unless that third-party sends over a P3P (Platform for Privacy Preferences Project) stating that those cookies won’t be used for tracking users. Microsoft claims that Google has been sending deceptive text that reads, “This is not a P3P policy” and includes a link that leads to a page where Google claims such cookies are needed to store user preferences, and that the P3P protocol is not well-equipped to deal with a company like Google. Apparently, that text, masked as a P3P protocol, does the trick, and enables Google’s tracking cookies.
Google may have a point with its criticism of the P3P policy. As it turns out, this is a case of “Well, everyone else is doing it.” “Everyone else” includes Facebook and amusingly, Microsoft itself. A 2010 study conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon on P3P protocols revealed that msn.con and live.com both sent misleading P3P protocols to circumvent Internet Explorer’s privacy settings. Even Microsoft recommends falsified P3P protocols on their support page as a solution to some problems users encounter with Internet Explorer.
Google claims the Microsoft policy, which requires those P3P policies to be machine-readable, is outdated and impractical, as it fails to mesh with the Internet that most people are used to these days – the one with the “Like” button everywhere, for example. That might also be a fair point – the policy was implemented in 2002, which, in terms of computers, is practically ancient.
This seems less like a case of Google taking another nasty turn, and more like just about the entire Internet cheating a broken policy system that no one cares about anymore – including the creators of the policy. Until, of course, it’s convenient for those creators to care about the policy again.