Workaround or cookies?

“The case revolves around a so-called Safari workaround, which allegedly allowed Google to avoid the Safari web browser’s default privacy setting to place cookies, that gathered data such as surfing habits, social class, race, ethnicity, without users’ knowledge.”

Which does “that” refer to, “Safari workaround” or “cookies”?
I think “that” refers to “Safari workaround”.

The first paragraph of the articles states “A group of users claim that Google bypassed security settings on the Safari browser to install tracking cookies on their computers in order to target them with advertising.” This makes it clear that your “that” refers to the offending cookies placed by Google despite the user’s Safari privacy settings.

But, cookies are just pieces of data, which cannot “gather” data.
The expression “tracking cookies” is difficult to understand.
Does it mean “cookies used for tracking” or “cookies that track your surfing”?

I read “tracking cookies” as cookies helping companies to track users’ habits and preferences, rather than companies “tracking cookies for information”.

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What’s the difference between ‘record information’ and ‘gather data’? (rhetorical question)

According to the Wikipedia article ‘HTTP cookie’
( HTTP cookie - Wikipedia ):

“tracking cookies and especially third-party tracking cookies are commonly used as ways to compile long-term records of individuals’ browsing histories… Cookies can also store passwords and form content a user has previously entered, such as a credit card number or an address.”

To Yutaka’s initial question, I think the problem lies in the way the sentence was put together: the overabundant use of commas; the placement of the phrase “to place cookies.” It is not exactly clear what the writer meant.

I agree with you, Yutaka. I think that the ‘that’ clause could refer back to “workaround.” The lack of clarity revolves around the ‘which’ clause, which is set apart by commas, that could make the reader think the ‘that’ clause also refers back to “workaround.” In the previous sentence — the one I have just written — does the ‘that’ clause refer back to “clause” or to “commas”? It is not entirely clear, is it?

The writer (or editors) should have broken up the sentence and clarified the details. For example:

The case revolves around a so-called “Safari workaround” which allegedly allowed Google to avoid the Safari web browser’s default privacy settings. The claim is that Google used the workaround to place cookies and gather data about the users, such as surfing habits, social class, race and ethnicity, and that Google collected the data without the users’ knowledge.

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Bathing suits are for bathing, but walking dictionaries are not for walking.
A walking dictionary could walk.
Bathing suits themselves are not inclined to bathe.
I wonder if “tracking cookies” themselves can track someone else’s surfing.

“Google used the workaround to place cookies and gather data about the users”
This description seems clear to me.

Grammatically, it could be either (I think this is what your real question is).
So you need to rely on context/knowledge to choose. Which one of your two options is capable of gathering data?

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quite out of the subject, for those who care about their privacy, give a try to this great Firefox Extension: “Lightbeam”

Lightbeam is a Firefox add-on that allows you to see the third parties that are collecting information about your browsing activity, with and without your consent.

Yutaka, you’ll clearly see how efficiently third parties cookies are tracking your and your consumer habits.
I don’t know for you, but for me it’s terrific !

Thank you for your useful information.