FTC: Google settles for $22.5m in Safari tracking row

FTC: Google settles for $22.5m in Safari tracking row

Summary: After Google bypassed Safari privacy settings, the FTC charged the search giant $22.5m to settle. But how many hours does it take for Google to recover? Five.

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Google has agreed to pay a $22.5 million penalty to settle an ongoing privacy row with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.  

The search behemoth was found to have bypassed Safari, Apple's desktop and mobile browser, and installed cookies, in spite of the browser's strong security settings which should have prevented such activity.

The FTC charged Google with placing advertising tracking cookies on computers and devices, which in many cases was conducted through circumventing the browser's cookie-blocking setting.

The federal regulator said that Google had agreed to pay the record penalty "that it would not place tracking "cookies" or serve targeted ads to those users."

Google must also disable all the tracking cookies it said it wouldn't place on consumers' devices in the first place. 

"No matter how big or small, all companies must abide by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promises to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place," said FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz.

But Google escaped a full FTC investigation which could have made the settlement penalty look meager at best. The settlement does not constitute an admission that Google was in breach of the law. 

The whole ding-dong began in April when the FTC was said to have been "deep into an investigation" of Google's behavior and activities after it was accused by a security researcher of bypassing the privacy settings in the Safari browser.

But Google broke a promise that it would stick to a 2011 settlement agreement with the FTC a year earlier over controversy surrounding its Google Buzz service.

The first settlement said, among other things, that Google must not "misrepresent the extent to which consumers can exercise control over the collection of their information." The FTC then charged Google with using "deceptive tactics" and violated its privacy commitments when it launched Buzz in 2010.

The second time around, Google used code to install cookies on computers and mobile devices -- including Macs and Windows machines, iPhones and iPads -- to allow its Google+ social networking users to access the '+1' button within mobile advertisements, powered by Google's own DoubleClick network.  

The search giant admitted to the practice, saying "created a temporary communication link between Safari browsers and Google’s servers," but had stopped.

A Google spokesperson told ZDNet in an emailed statement:

We set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users. The FTC is focused on a 2009 help center page published more than two years before our consent decree, and a year before Apple changed its cookie-handling policy. We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple’s browsers.

Google has faced a series of probes and investigations on both sides of the Atlantic over its privacy policies. Both U.S. and European authorities continue to investigate whether Google's consolidated privacy policy breaks data protection and privacy laws.

But considering 96 percent of Google’s revenue comes from online advertising, the FTC's fine was only a fraction of what it earns each year. Last year, Google earned more than $37.9 billion in revenue alone. 

According to ZDNet's editor-in-chief Larry Dignan: based on Google's Q2 sales (excluding traffic acquisition costs), $22.5 million amounts to about 5 hours of revenue.

Image credit: CNET.

Topics: Government US, Apple, Google, Privacy, Security

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9 comments
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  • So much for "Do no evil"...

    n/t
    athynz
  • the fine was instigated by M$ agents

    there was no wrong done by google.
    LlNUX Geek
  • I don't get it

    What's the point of the article? Google was found "guilty" and was fined.
    Their annual income is immaterial unless of course someone is jealous of all that money.

    Or are you thinking because they are Google, the fine should have been more? or Less?
    You don't really want to go to that place where people and companies are penalized for who or what they are, rather than what they did or didn't.
    inkwell
    • The point of a fine is to deter future bad behavior...

      if the fine is so small, there's no disincentive for Google to do this again.

      That's why the amount matters.
      msalzberg
  • FTC gets money

    and we get spied on. I'm failing to see where this is "justice"? Should all of this be distributed to the millions of people whom Google have "cheated" on? Why does the FTC get this money? What will they do with it? Methinks this is a funny story. Google drops a few pennies for a fine, makes millions illegally obtain information, gets a slap on the wrist and the FTC gets a bonus? Wow, now that is a fascinating system! Why am I voting for all this, again?
    33Nick
  • Safari is a P.o.S. browser anyway.

    Safari is a P.o.S. browser anyway, I could care less if Google was tracking the stupid Apple Zombies.
    gtatransam@...
    • Safari 6

      is good on Mountain Lion.
      Michael Alan Goff
  • Google vs FTC

    Just another recent example of government shaking down a company for money another one is
    Standard Chartered Bank
    " New York's Department of Financial Services announced a $340 million settlement with Standard Chartered bank to resolve allegations that the firm concealed transactions with Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. As WYNC pointed out, that sum could make a significant difference for a government that's looking at a budget gap of $982 million next year."
    http://money.cnn.com/2012/08/16/news/companies/standard-chartered-new-york/index.html
    The N.Y. Bank regulators were created to legally shake down companies for $$'s
    preferred user
  • So Apple gets others in trouble when they fail to write working code?

    So the experts behind Safari mess up and Google pays for it? I'm failing to see an ounce of logic in this... technology and laws seem to be at odds, and I think it mainly has to do with the idiots that are writing and enforcing this crap.
    tomongous