Consumer group files motion to oppose Google, FTC settlement

A U.S. consumer group says it is unfair that Google can escape with a meager (albeit record) penalty but without admitting guilt, after the search giant bypassed the Safari browser's privacy settings.

The settlement agreement between the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Google, which cost the search giant $22.5 million in penalty charges , is being challenged in court.

The search giant managed to avoid pleading guilty or admitting any wrongdoing in its settlement deal with the commission -- something that irked the higher-up's at the FTC  -- and could spark a change in future policy to disallow firms to avoid getting away from their troubles scot-free.

But one U.S. group, Consumer Watchdog, believes this isn't right. In response, the consumer advocacy group has filed a motion [PDF] in a bid to allow the group to submit briefs that formally oppose the FTC settlement with Google.

In a nutshell: John Simpson, the consumer groups' privacy project director, said: 

"Google hacked past a key privacy setting on iPhones and iPads and other devices using Apple's Safari browser, placed tracking cookies on them and then lied, saying the settings were still effective. Clearly it violated its agreement with the FTC."

The group wants the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which will accept or reject the deal, to throw out the settlement offer and force Google to swallow a whole heap of humble pie.

The motion says the settlement is "not in the public interest" because the settlement "continues to deny any violation of the prior FTC order," notably the privacy agreement set out by the FTC over Google Buzz in 2010.

"The Commission is proposing to let Google buy its way out of trouble for an amount that is less than the company spends on lunches for its employees and with no admission it did anything wrong," Simpson said.

As ZDNet editor-in-chief Larry Dignan pointed out, based on Google's Q2 sales, the $22.5 million penalty could have been recovered by the search giant in just five hours .

Google has already made steps to bolster its privacy track record in light of the Safari security bypass fiasco. A recent job listing said the search giant is building a "red team" in order to scrutinize the firm's products to avoid such brouhaha's like it faced with the FTC this year, among others.

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