Google Cookies Linked to Government Hacking Initiative in New Snowden Leak

Google uses the PREF cookie to determine a user’s advertising preferences, but the cookie’s ability to identify specific browsers lets the NSA pinpoint which machines to target with its hacking software.

In an ironic—or not so ironic—twist to this week’s news of Google’s founding role in the newly created “Reform Government Surveillance” coalition, another revelation by whistleblower Edward Snowden aligns the tech giant more closely with NSA surveillance operations.

As uncovered by The Washington Post, the leak involves the use of Google ad cookies in an NSA “Remote Exploitation” protocol that relies on cookie-based tracking measures to zero in on surveillance targets.


The question now is whether Google intentionally agreed to assist the government hacking initiative or was required by the FISA court to allow the NSA to piggyback on a Google-specific ad cookie known as PREF.

In light of last summer’s Snowden leaks, the “Reform Government Surveillance” alliance calls on the President, the United States Congress and world leaders to reform government surveillance laws and reassess intelligence practices to “ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight.”

In an open letter to Washington, Google CEO, Larry Page, commented that “critical” user data has been “undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world.”


*A slide from an internal NSA presentation indicating that the agency uses at least one Google cookie as a way to identify targets for exploitation (Washington Post)