Google faces fine for bypassing Apple's Safari privacy settings

Google faces fine for bypassing Apple's Safari privacy settings

Summary: Only days after the FCC fined Google for impeding and hindering its investigation, the FTC is looking to fine the company for bypassing Safari users' browser settings to set tracking code.

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U.S. government regulators may fine Google a second time this month, reports suggest.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is expected to decide on whether to fine Google for breaching user privacy, after it emerged the search giant bypassed privacy settings on Apple's Safari browser on iPhones and iPads, which left users vulnerable to tracking cookies.

A report in the San Jose Mercury News, citing sources familiar with the matter, notes the FTC is "deep into an investigation" of Google's actions, and could impose heavy fines within the next 30 days.

Google was accused of bypassing Safari's security by allowing sites to set tracking cookies, despite the security settings that should have preventing the practice. The website code which set the cookies was to allow users who had signed in to Google+ on Safari to access the '+1' button within advertisements, powered by Google's own DoubleClick network.

The search company admitted that it carried out this action, and since ceased the practice.

The FTC investigation is reportedly examining whether Google's privacy bypassing actions violated a 2011 settlement agreement set out between the agency and the company over Google Buzz.

The FTC could issue sanctions up to $16,000 per violation per day should the search and mobile giant be found in breach of the ruling.

Google told sister site CNET that it "[provides] features that signed-in Google users had enabled", but noting: "the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser". Google said it would co-operate with any regulatory body that has questions.

The agency ordered that Google's privacy policies should be audited for 20 years after Google apologised for the Buzz foul-up, emphasising that "user trust really matters." It was also forced to no longer misrepresent privacy or confidentiality of user data, and gain explicit consent before sharing user data with third parties.

The prospects of more fines comes only a few days since the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said it would propose a $25,000 fine for Google after the regulator said the company “deliberately impeded and delayed” an ongoing investigation into whether federal snooping laws were broken as part of its Street View data collection service.

Criticised for being a meagre penalty compared to the company's profits, had the new European data protection laws been in place today, the company could have been fined just shy of $1 billion.

Image credit: CNET.

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Topics: Government US, Apple, Browser, Google, Government, Operating Systems

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16 comments
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  • get the government off our back

    and stop the tortuous interference with Google business! The real culprit here is Apple that has many vulnerabilities in Safari and refuses to patch them.
    The Linux Geek
    • Apple and MS implemented an open standard

      Google then abused the open standard, its a bad standard admittedly and needs replacing (but is hasn't been yet) but for a company that preaches open standards this is embarrassing
      the.nameless.drifter
    • Google has no defense here, Linux Geek

      Which makes your post here_bullsh!t
      ScorpioBlack
    • Right, right

      and the fact that Google hacked into Safari does not make a difference? Let's turn this around - if Apple had hacked into Google Chrome you'd be calling for Tim Cook's head but since this is Google doing the hacking they get a free pass... Cue the Double Standards!
      NonFanboy
      • Errr...

        I don't think anyone is calling for the heads at Google. Unless it's in invisible text in the article.
        There is a difference. Google is trying to dump a plugin on the Safari browser. Apple [on the other hand] has no plugin to put on the Chrome browser.
        Gisabun
    • Oh why...

      Oh why do you even post? Your are biased. Your comments rarely make any sense. You go after any company that doesn't provide their products for free.
      Google has - for too many times - went against standard, didn't care about security, and didn't give a crap about privacy issues. Or are going to tell us these are all lies or a conspiracy. Wake up!
      Gisabun
    • What does the government have to do with it

      Apple built a defective product. Period. If all it takes to get around cookie settings is to ignore them, then there are many a happy hacker right now.
      happyharry_z
      • BINGO

        Apple did do something on the cheap, allowed an app through its own (highly vaunted) screening process...

        Oh wow, I've already brought up other tangents that help show how much a smokescreen Apple's app vetting process is, if it takes days to allow an app through that magically overrides its defenses... Apple's products are not that good (and Objective-C lacks memory management, which doesn't help matters either... but people say Flash is old and archaic... oh well...)
        HypnoToad72
        • What app? And what's got to do with their vetting process?

          Unless I'm mistaken, this is all browser based. Apps have nothing to do with it.
          TroyMcClure
    • um

      So when did Apple go after Google for doing an end-run around Safari? In this case, the government was a catalyst...

      You're mixing apples and kumquats, Linux Geek...

      Still, if you want an anarchy, be careful what you wish for...
      HypnoToad72
  • Is this why

    They called Apple "Evil"? Get out of here, Google. No one wants you. Go back to where you cam from and never leave.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • Gee, I thought ET didn't call home anymore!

    Gee, I thought ET didn't call home anymore! It's like having the fox in the chicken coop. Say it isn't so! Do you mean to tell me ET is still calling home. Gee, everyone says it doesn't BUT GUESS WHAT IT STILL DOES!!!!!!!!!!! A snoop by any other name is still GOOGLE!!!!!
    That's why I've gone to extraordinary lengths to remove everything Google including Picasso! I want the fox on the outside of my chicken coop NOT on the inside!!!!!!!
    Google = snoop ware = spyware = CIA like activities (they should take notes from Google)
    Nuff said.
    Disgruntled_MS_User
  • Who did what?

    So call me confused. Google is in trouble because Safari freely accepted cookies despite its own settings? Can that be right? Doesn't it seem that if Apple had done the job properly it would have simply refused any cookies, plugins, downloads, etc if its own privacy settings told it to? Isn't that what properly coded applications do? Things sure get complicated in the blame game.
    zdnet@...
    • Apple implemented an open standard

      Google abused a hole in that standard, its a bad standard but its still shady for google to be doing that
      the.nameless.drifter
    • From what I've read...

      Google had to include code in their ads that was specifically designed to accomplish this. Apple certainly had a flaw in their private browsing feature, but you expect hackers, not legitimate companies, to exploit such flaws.

      Regardless of Google's statement's about features their users opted into, it doesn't take Mensa to figure out that if a user turns on private browsing, their goal is to not be tracked. The victim here isn't Apple, it's the users' who Google exploited here.
      TroyMcClure
  • GoOgle

    Day after day, week after week, GoOgle makes the news with their privacy invading and illegal practices. But yet day after day and week after week, sheeple use GoOgle products because it's free. Well guess what, it's not, you pay for it with your private information being collected and sold. If your OK with this, then just keep on using GoOgle. I'm sure they appreciate it very much.....
    Tinman57