Google to pay $17M to settle Safari privacy case (Update)

Nov 18, 2013 by Michael Liedtke
The "Google" logo is seen on a screen on December 4, 2012 in Paris

Google is paying $17 million to 37 states and the District of Columbia to make amends for the Internet search leader's snooping on millions of people using Safari Web browsers in 2011 and 2012.

The settlement announced Monday stems from a technological loophole that enabled Google's DoubleClick advertising network to shadow unwitting Safari users, even though the browser's maker, Apple Inc., prohibited the tracking without obtaining a person's permission. By following what Safari users were doing online, DoubleClick could gain more insights about what types of ads were most likely to appeal to different Safari users.

This is the second time that authorities in the U.S. have cracked down on Google for its secret shadowing of Safari users from June 2011 through mid-February of last year. The Federal Trade Commission fined Google $22.5 million last year. It represented the largest penalty that the FTC had ever collected for a civil violation.

Google Inc. has maintained the Safari intrusion was an inadvertent side effect of an attempt to make it easier for people to recommend ads.

The Mountain View, California company disabled the surveillance coding, known as "cookies," in February 2012 after the violation of Safari's privacy policies was initially reported. Until the problem was uncovered by a graduate student at Stanford University, Google had assured Safari users that they wouldn't be monitored, as long as they didn't change the browser settings to permit the tracking.

"Misrepresenting that tracking will not occur, when that is not the case, is unacceptable, as this settlement emphasizes," Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said.

Google isn't acknowledging any wrongdoing in the settlement. That's the same position that Google took when it paid the FTC fine last year.

"We work hard to get privacy right at Google and have taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple's browsers," the company said in a Monday statement. "We're pleased to have worked with the state attorneys general to reach this agreement."

The settlement will be divided among the participating states and the District of Columbia.

The rebuke from the states is primarily a public relations blow to Google, whose privacy controls have suffered other lapses in recent years. In perhaps the most glaring privacy breach, a Google engineer installed a program that enabled company cars taking pictures of street scenes to scoop up personal data being transmitted over unprotected Wi-Fi networks. The company also exposed the contact lists of Gmail users in 2010 when it launched a now-defunct social networking service called Buzz.

The settlement won't put much of a dent in Google's finances. After stripping out the company's advertising commissions, Google's revenue this year is expected to be about $47 billion, according to analysts surveyed by FactSet. According to that estimate, it would take Google slightly more than three hours to generate $17 million in revenue on an average day.

Besides paying the fine, Google also is agreeing to maintain a special page devoted to cookies for the next five years and refrain making any misleading statements about its online tracking practices.

Explore further: Lions Gate partners with online outfit RocketJump

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Google sued in UK over Safari tracking

Jan 28, 2013

A British law firm says that about a dozen Apple customers are suing Internet search leader Google in the U.K. over its alleged secret tracking of their Internet browsing habits.

States join in on scrutiny of Google

Mar 16, 2012

Google has long faced privacy and antitrust problems with federal and European regulators. But states appear increasingly willing to confront the Internet giant over those same concerns, and also could exact significant financial ...

Browser bypasses put Google in privacy cross hairs

Feb 22, 2012

Privacy advocates, lawyers and powerful rival Microsoft were piling on Google on Tuesday for sidestepping Web browsing software to tailor ads for people signed into its online services. ...

Recommended for you

Instagram photo-sharing service goes down

Apr 12, 2014

Popular photo-sharing site Instagram was not working Saturday, as frustrated users quickly turned to social network Twitter and other web sites to share their complaints.

Authors Guild asks US court to rule against Google

Apr 11, 2014

The Authors Guild says that Google Inc. is stealing business from retailers and has asked a New York federal appeals court to find that the Internet giant is violating copyright laws with its massive book digitization project.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

foolspoo
not rated yet Nov 18, 2013
of course this wont make front page coverage..

THE HYPOCRISY IS ABUNDANT! our government no longer fears its people. they have failed this nation.

More news stories

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Tech giants look to skies to spread Internet

The shortest path to the Internet for some remote corners of the world may be through the skies. That is the message from US tech giants seeking to spread the online gospel to hard-to-reach regions.

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.

Making 'bucky-balls' in spin-out's sights

(Phys.org) —A new Oxford spin-out firm is targeting the difficult challenge of manufacturing fullerenes, known as 'bucky-balls' because of their spherical shape, a type of carbon nanomaterial which, like ...

Gene removal could have implications beyond plant science

(Phys.org) —For thousands of years humans have been tinkering with plant genetics, even when they didn't realize that is what they were doing, in an effort to make stronger, healthier crops that endured climates better, ...