Google slapped on wrist over Safari tracking

By John Leonard
10 Aug 2012 View Comments

As predicted last month, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has imposed a record fine on Google of $22.5m (£14.4m) to settle charges that the company wrongly assured users of Apple's Safari browser that its tracking cookies were blocked by default.

The FTC charged that the search firm had circumvented privacy protections built in to Safari in order to serve ads via Google's DoubleClick network and to track their online activities, despite stating on its website that Apple's browser blocked such activity.

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However, the result is not all bad for Google. Setting aside for the moment the fact that the £14.4m fine will hardly have any impact on its profits (it amounts to just 5 hours' worth of revenues), the search giant is allowed to deny any liability as part of the deal.

This was an obvious source of annoyance for one of the five-member panel of commissioners, because Google has previous in such matters.

Dissenting commissioner J. Thomas Rosch went on record to state that Google had got off easy by not having to admit guilt in this case, arguing that the company was in clear contempt of a previous FTC ruling that barred it from publishing such misleading information about user controls.
"This is not the first time the Commission has charged Google with engaging in deceptive conduct." He said in a statement.

"This is Google's second bite at the apple. The Commission accuses it of violating the Google Buzz consent order by "misrepresent[ing] the extent to which users may exercise control over the collection or use of covered information" and accordingly, seeks civil penalties for those violations. In other words, the Commission charges Google with contempt."

In an effort to explain the deal, the FTC took to Twitter yesterday (hashtag #FTCpriv) although the ensuing conversation was not particularly enlightening for those seeking to find out why Google was allowed to deny responsibility.

Google says it has removed the "vast majority" of the offending cookies from people's computers, according to the FTC, and has until February 15, 2014 to "expire" the remainder.


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