(Updates with company declining to comment in fifth paragraph.)
Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Google Inc. officials were sued for violating users’ privacy rights on Apple Inc.’s Safari Web browser by bypassing computer settings designed to block monitoring of consumers’ online activity.
Google, the world’s biggest Internet-search company, has been dodging privacy settings in Safari, which serves as the primary Web browser on Apple’s iPhone and iPad products, lawyers for an Illinois man who uses the Safari browser said in a lawsuit filed today in federal court in Delaware.
“Google’s willful and knowing actions violated” federal wiretapping laws and other computer-related statutes, attorneys for Matthew Soble said in the complaint.
Google has drawn regulatory scrutiny and pressure from consumer advocates for the way it handles personal information. Last year, it agreed to settle claims with the Federal Trade Commission that Google used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy policies when it introduced its Buzz social- networking service in 2010.
Chris Gaither, a spokesman for Mountain View, California- based Google, said in an e-mail that the company declined to comment on the suit’s allegations.
Researchers at Stanford University said today Google programmers developed codes that allowed them to avoid privacy settings created by their rivals at Cupertino, California-based Apple.
The settings were designed to block cookies, or small pieces of code, that can be used to follow users’ activities on the Web. The Wall Street Journal reported Google’s actions in bypassing the privacy settings earlier this week.
Soble is seeking class-action status for his suit, which was filed on behalf of individuals “whose default privacy settings on the web browser software produced by Apple, known as Safari, were knowingly circumvented by Google,” according to the suit.
Google’s actions also prompted Consumer Watchdog to send a letter to the FTC today demanding action against the Internet- search provider.
“Safari users with the browser set to block third-party cookies thought they were not being tracked,” John Simpson, privacy project director of Consumer Watchdog, said in the letter. “Nonetheless, because of an element invisible to the user, but designed to mimic a form, DoubleClick was able to set tracking cookies in an obvious violation of the set preference.”
The allegations that Google bypassed Apple’s privacy settings to gather information on user’s Web browsing habits also have drawn attention from lawmakers.
“I fully intend to look into this matter and determine the extent to which the practice was used by Google and other third parties to circumvent consumer choice,” West Virginia Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement.
“We are taking immediate steps to address concerns, and we are happy to answer any questions regulators and others may have,” Google’s Gaither said in an e-mailed response.
The case is Matthew Soble v. Google Inc., U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware (Wilmington).
--With assistance from Dawn McCarty in Wilmington, Delaware, Heather Perlberg in New York and Brian Womack in San Francisco. Editors: Glenn Holdcraft, Peter Blumberg
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