Google to pay record $22.5 million over privacy fines

By Justine Espersen

Google Inc. will pay a $22.5 million fine after violating privacy laws by tracking millions of web surfers who use Apple’s Safari browser, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said Thursday.

The civil penalty, the largest fine the FTC has imposed against a company, is due to Google misrepresenting what was happening. The Internet search company signed a 20-year agreement last October, which included a pledge to not mislead consumers about their privacy practices. Google used computer
code “cookies” to trick Safari on Macs, iPhones and iPads so Google could monitor users, including those who had blocked “cookies.”

“The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order,” Chairman of the FTC Jon Leibowitz said in a statement. “No matter how big or small, all companies must abide
by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promise to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place.”

Google has withdrawn their intrusive technology from Safari after being reported. 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,” a Google spokeswoman said via email to IDG News. Google has changed that page and “taken steps to remove the ad cookies,
which collected no personal information from Apple’s browsers.”

However, this wasn’t Google’s first time with privacy policy violations. Google launched Buzz to compete with Twitter in Feb. 2010. They originally used Gmail customers’ email contact lists to create their social networks of Buzz contacts, which was available for the entire world to see, quickly leading to an uproar. Google changed their settings so the contacts could be kept private. Buzz was settled with the FTC in March 2011.

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