MacOS KenDensed: Google’s Browser Snooping & Tim Cook’s Shareholder Party

Ken Ray: Master of DisguiseGoogle’s “Don’t be Evil” motto may not mean what you think it means — or what they think it means. Not everyone is happy with working conditions in Foxconn’s iPad factories, Tim Cook wooed investors during Apple’s annual shareholder meeting, and the app finder Chomp is now part of the Apple family. Mac OS Ken’s Ken Ray, as always, is ready to roll with his own perspective. And a literary reference.

Google: Sidestepping “Don’t be Evil”
Some day we may look at the side of the barn and see that the rule reads, “Don’t be too evil.”

The Wall Street Journal ran a piece late last week, highlighted by Wired,that said Google intentionally worked its way around Safari’s default privacy settings, attaching specific types of cookies to the browser even if the browser was set to reject them, which — again — it is by default.

Quoting Wired, “Google’s rationale seems to be that Apple’s default settings don’t adhere to standard web practices and don’t actually reflect what users want, since the browser never asks users if that’s the privacy setting they want.”

The piece says Google knocked it off immediately after the Wall Street Journal ran its piece Thursday night. And if I’m reading the Wired piece correctly, Facebook encourages such behavior, telling third-party developers that getting around the block is a “best practice.”

Turns out Safari’s not the only big game Google’s hunting. BusinessInsider hit with a story this week that said the “Don’t be evil”-doers are also choosing to not honor default privacy setting in Internet Explorer 9. After the Safari story, Microsoft started looking into whether such shenanigans were afoot with their window on the web, and sure enough, Internet Explorer chief Dean Hachamovich says that’s happening.

Quoting the piece

IE9 blocks cookies from any site that does not honor a technology called P3P, which lets Web sites describe to browsers exactly how they’re going to use tracking cookies.

Google doesn’t honor P3P. So its cookies should be blocked.

But instead, Google employs a loophole — instead of leaving a blank in the spot where it would deliver a P3P policy that only a browser could understand, it delivers a human-readable message saying ‘This is not a P3P policy!’ and a link to a page explaining why Google doesn’t like P3P.

Turns out since the browser doesn’t understand the P3P message it accepts the cookie anyway, so Google is stepping around IE9’s privacy settings while feigning transparency.

This may not be that big a deal, honestly, but I’m not sure you get to stay the cool kids by moving from “Don’t be evil,” to “Don’t be too evil,” to “What do we really mean when we say evil?”

Three members of the U.S. House of Representatives would apparently like the Federal Trade Commission to look into the Google gate-hopping. Unless they already have.

Macworld UK says Republican Representatives Cliff Stearns of Florida and Joe Barton of Texas, and Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts have written to the FTC, saying, “As members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, we are interested in any actions that FTC has taken or plans to take to investigate whether Google has violated the terms of its consent agreement.”

The piece says that consent order “bars Google from making misrepresentations regarding its privacy policies.” If the FTC decides the Safari-circumvention violates that agreement, if could be on the hook for sizable fines.

On Foxconn and Working Conditions
So last week Auret van Heerden, CEO of the Fair Labor Association, the independent watchdog auditing working conditions in Apple’s supply chain, was all like, “Man… Foxconn is so cool, I may just apply for a job here.”

Okay not really, but after something like two days on the ground in Shenzhen, he did say “the physical conditions are way, way above average of the norm,” and that he was very surprised “how tranquil it is compared with a garment factory.”

A few hours later he was verbally beaten-up by SumOfUs, the group that’s been petitioning Apple to make the next iPhone the first “ethical” iPhone. I’m not saying anything has to do with anything. I’m just laying out the timeline.

Van Heerden doesn’t seem quite as impressed with Foxconn as the second week of his audit begins.

Bloomberg has van Heerden saying the FLA has “uncovered ‘tons of issues’ that need to be addressed” at the Foxconn Shenzhen plant, and that he expects to see some “very significant announcements in the near future.”

Van Heerden did not elaborate on the findings. A preliminary report from the FLA on plant conditions is expected next month.

One Hong Kong based non-governmental organization says it looks like Foxconn is pulling the wool over the Fair Labor Association’s eyes. AppleInsider has Debby Sze Wan Chan, project officer at Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, or SACOM, saying she’s heard from Foxconn employees that the company is hiding underage workers from inspectors when inspectors come around.

Chan says two Foxconn workers in Zhengzhou last week told her that Foxconn was “prepared for the [FLA’s recent] inspection” and that “all underage workers, between 16-17 years old, were not assigned any overtime work and some of them were even sent to other departments.”

Workers as young as 16 are allowed by Apple’s Code of Conduct, depending of course on local laws, though Apple does require “special protections for those workers that limit how much and what kinds of work they are allowed to perform,” according to the piece.

Another Foxconn employee in Chengdu says she was allowed three breaks a day recently because of the inspections, when she normally gets one break per shift.

While Apple CEO Tim Cook has said publicly that Apple cares about every employee in the supply chain, Chan says the workers say they see no evidence of that.

“Most of the time, the workers are aware of the presence of Apple’s representatives inside the factories,” says Chan, who adds, “It is not the problem that Apple doesn’t know. The real problem’s at their suppliers. They know, but it is only because they do not care.”

Chan says she hopes Apple’s CEO will work to improve working conditions among suppliers, though she’s not sure he has “any commitments to do so.”

Meanwhile workers from another of Apple’s suppliers are calling for customers and potential customers of the company to apply a bit of workers’ rights pressure. A separate AppleInsider piece has two former employees of Wintek asking people to sign the online petitions organized by SumOfUs.

The two employees experienced health issues after exposure to n-hexane in 2009. N-hexane was used to dry iPhone screens, though exposure to it led to the hospitalization of 62 Wintek employees.

The former Wintek workers say they “have been pressuring Apple, and its new CEO Tim Cook, for years to compensate [workers] who were injured working for them, and demanding reform of working conditions at their Chinese factories so that their workers don’t suffer like [they] do.”

Tim Cook: Shareholder Whisperer
Apple got together with its shareholders on Thursday for a tiny bit of bowling. Actually, it was for the annual shareholders’ meeting which, for the umpteenth year in a row, was not held in a bowling alley.

It was held on the Cupertino-company’s campus.

This was Apple CEO Tim Cook’s first time addressing the shareholders’ meeting as CEO and he wanted them to know that the company is still going strong. Forbes has Cook telling attendees, “You can be assured we are working as hard as ever this year to deliver an incredible year and some products that will blow your mind.”

And then he listed them all. Except for the part where he listed them all.

Apple keeps raking in the cashNotes leading up to the meeting had said that Cook would likely address giving back to shareholders, either in the form of a dividend or share buyback. To this he said what he said at the Goldman Sachs Technology conference a week or two ago, and on the last earnings call, and on the earnings call before that: that Apple thinks about cash very deeply, but he didn’t announce a dividend or any share buybacks. With close to $100 billion in cash, Cook pointed out that Apple has spent billions in the supply chain, billions in retail operation, billions on acquisitions — again, just like he said at the Goldman Sachs conference.

“We’ve actually spent a lot but we still have a lot,” said Cook. “And frankly speaking, that is more than we need to run the company.”

So you’ll probably hear some analysts say it still sounds to them as if Cook is set to pull the trigger on share buybacks or dividends. But he didn’t pull it this week.

What sounds less likely is a stock split. In thinking about shares, Cook says Apple is always evaluating actions that’d be in shareholders’ best interests, but the value of a stock split “isn’t so clear.”

Apple got most of what it wanted as far as proposals put to a vote, except for one: a proposal, endorsed by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System that board members have receive a majority shareholder vote to be reelected even if they’re running unopposed was approved against the board’s suggestion. That rule goes into effect next year, though Forbes says Apple pointed out yesterday that all the board members were approved by 80 percent or more of investors.

Oh, and all eight board members — Apple CEO Tim Cook, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Disney CEO Bob Iger, Intuit Chairman Bill Campbell, J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler, Avon Products Chairman Andrea Jung, former Northrop Grumman CEO Ronald Sugar and former Genentech CEO Arthur Levinson — were re-elected to the board.

While some protesters were spotted outside trying to call attention to issues in the far-east supply chain, a friend who attended the meeting tells me that their numbers were small, and that they were able to pass them without incident. Not overly surprising. What is surprising: that same friend tells me there were no questions about issues with workers in the supply chain inside the meeting.

Finally, Forbes does say that Apple’s new CEO paid homage to his predecessor. Of Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs, Cook said “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss him,” though as the weeks passed, he says the great sadness he felt “turned into an intense determination to continue the journey because that’s what he would have wanted.”

Cook also thanked Apple’s board for their “great service in a time of transition,” and to shareholders Apple’s new CEO said, “For all of you who have hung in with us and believed in us all of these years, thank you.”

Apple’s New Buy: Chomp
And finally this week, there’s a report out there that Apple has bought an app that helps people find apps in the app store. Thing is, it doesn’t just work in Apple’s App Store. TechCrunch hit with a story Thursday that was confirmed by 9to5 Mac, saying “Apple has bought the app search and discovery platform Chomp.”

Chomp has been around for a few years. According to the iOS App Store description for the app, “Chomp’s proprietary algorithm learns the functions and topics of apps, so you can search based on what apps do, not just what they’re called.”

With half a million apps in the app store, that could be helpful. Again though, it’s not just the iOS App Store for which Chomp has a service. TechCrunch says it also has an app for Android apps, and it “has a deal with Verizon to power all of their Android-based app searches.”

Deals outside of the iOS App Store are expected to stay in place for the time being, though they’ll probably wind down quickly once Chomp and its team are fully on board at Apple.

Unless they already are. Mark Gurman at 9to5 Mac Tweeted Thursday that the Chomp team is already working at Apple, with the company’s CEO joining iTunes Marketing, and CTO taking a title as Senior iTunes Engineer. No word on terms of the deal, and no word what exactly Apple will do with the new hires and technology, though TechCrunch hears talk of a complete revamp of App Store search and recommendations.