Bill Hartzer

Google to Pay $22.5 Million to Settle FTC Privacy Charges

Google has agreed to pay a $22.5 million dollar civil penalty to settle FTC (Federal Trade Commission) charges that Google misrepresented themselves when it came to the privacy of Apple users. Google told users of Apple’s Safari web browser that Google would not place tracking cookies or serve targeted ads to those users. That violated an earlier privacy settlement between Google and the FTC.

In its complaint, the FTC charged that for “several months in 2011 and 2012, Google placed a certain advertising tracking cookie on the computers of Safari users who visited sites within Google’s DoubleClick advertising network, although Google had previously told these users they would automatically be opted out of such tracking, as a result of the default settings of the Safari browser used in Macs, iPhones and iPads.

According to the FTC’s complaint, Google specifically told Safari users that because the Safari browser is set by default to block third-party cookies, as long as users do not change their browser settings, this setting “effectively accomplishes the same thing as [opting out of this particular Google advertising tracking cookie].” In addition, Google represented that it is a member of an industry group called the Network Advertising Initiative, which requires members to adhere to its self-regulatory code of conduct, including disclosure of their data collection and use practices.

Despite these promises, the FTC charged that Google placed advertising tracking cookies on consumers’ computers, in many cases by circumventing the Safari browser’s default cookie-blocking setting. Google exploited an exception to the browser’s default setting to place a temporary cookie from the DoubleClick domain. Because of the particular operation of the Safari browser, that initial temporary cookie opened the door to all cookies from the DoubleClick domain, including the Google advertising tracking cookie that Google had represented would be blocked from Safari browsers.”

Here is some of the text from the FTC’s rulings:

IT IS ORDERED that judgment in the amount of twenty-two million five hundred
thousand dollars ($22,500,000) is hereby entered against Defendant as a civil penalty pursuant to
Section 5(l) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(l).

A. Within five (5) days of entry of this Order, Defendant shall transfer the civil
penalty payment in the form of an electronic fund transfer in accordance with the procedures
specified by the Consumer Protection Branch, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice,
Washington, DC 20530.

B. In the event of any default in payment, the entire unpaid amount, together with
interest, as computed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1961 from the date of default to the date of
payment, shall immediately become due and payable.

C. Defendant relinquishes all dominion, control, and title to the funds paid to the
fullest extent permitted by law. Defendant shall make no claim to or demand for return of the
funds, directly or indirectly, through counsel or otherwise.

Until February 15, 2014, Defendant will maintain systems configured to instruct Safari brand
web browsers to expire any cookie placed by Defendant through
February 15, 2012 if those systems encounter such a cookie, with the exception of the
DoubleClick opt-out cookie.

Personally, I think $22.5 million is rather low here, given the number of users involved and the amount that Google has potentially made from the information they gathered.

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