Google Pays $22.5 Million for Violating Users’ Privacy
The FTC dragged Google back to court after discovering that despite promises to the contrary, it had not given Safari users a way to opt out of its policy of using information gathered via cookies to target ads at them. Safari is used on Macs, iPhones, and iPads.
Slap on the Wrist?
“The settlement is part of the FTC’s ongoing efforts make sure companies live up to the privacy promises they make to consumers, and is the largest penalty the agency has ever obtained for a violation of a Commission order,” according to the FTC.
“In addition to the civil penalty, the order also requires Google to disable all the tracking cookies it had said it would not place on consumers’ computers,” adds the agency.
The $22.5 million fine – which totals about .06 percent of Google’s 2011 revenues of almost $38 billion – is not exactly the worst thing that could have happened to the Internet giant, which also did not have to admit any wrongdoing in the settlement.
Keep, But Don’t Use
At least one consumer group is not thrilled with the resolution of the case. Consumer Watchdog, which had filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in the case, objected to the proposed order. The group says the injunction requiring Google to disable the cookies is inadequate and not permanent, the penalty is too small and Google should be forced to admit liability.
“Frankly, I expected an uphill battle with Google and the FTC aligned against us,” says John Simpson, a consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog in a post about the case. “Together the government and Google defended the deal that had been negotiated in secret.”
While Google must disable the cookies it had surreptitiously placed on users’ browsers, it will be allowed to keep the information it gathered. Google argued that it would not use the information, so keeping it would be irrelevant; the FTC agreed.
“I was disappointed with the ruling, but think we made important points that will affect how similar cases are dealt with in the future,” Simpson adds. “Drawing the public’s attention to this case was tremendously important. I’m glad we did it.”
How to Keep Google in Check
Simpson says the decision makes two things clear: “First, if consumers are to have any privacy at all and be able to control what data is gathered about them, tough Do Not Track rules must be implemented.” His group has sponsored Do Not Track legislation at both the federal and state levels.
“Second, as we told the FTC last week, the Commission needs to file an antitrust suit against Google and take it to trial in U.S. District Court,” says Simpson. “The FTC should seek to force Google to divest its Motorola Mobility subsidiary, separate search from advertising, and undergo the same sort of regulation as a public utility.”
Contact a privacy lawyer on Lawyers.com if you’re concerned about your privacy online.