Google hit with record-setting $22.5 million fine over FTC violation

By on August 9, 2012, 2:30 PM

The Federal Trade Commission is making an example out of Google by hitting them with the largest fine ever for an FTC violation. The search giant has agreed to pay a $22.5 million civil penalty related to accusations that they placed tracking cookies on the computers of Safari browser users that visited Google advertising partner websites for several months in 2011 and 2012.

The problem is that Google had previously told Safari users that they would automatically be excluded from such tracking because Safari’s default settings supposedly prohibited it on Macs, iPhones and iPads. This led Safari users to think they had automatically opted out of the advertising tracking cookie but that wasn’t the case.

The FTC says that Google placed the tracking cookies on consumers’ computers anyway, often times circumventing Safari’s default cookie-blocking policy. The commission ultimately determined that by doing this, the search giant had violated an October 2011 settlement which banned them from misrepresenting the extent to which consumers can control the collection of their information.

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

Google is now taking steps to remove the advertising cookies. In an emailed statement to CNET, a spokesperson said they set the highest standards of privacy and security for their users. Google further points out that no personal information was collected through use of the ad cookie.

Although the fine is record-setting, it’s hardly a drop in the bucket for Google. The company posted a $2.8 billion profit in the last quarter that ended June 30.




User Comments: 10

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LNCPapa LNCPapa said:

I'm sure $22.5 million is a big drop in the bucket since surely someone got into trouble over it. I just want to know one thing... where did the money from this fine go? I hope it's going somewhere to help our economy and not just lining someone's or some silly department's pockets. If I only made $100k/year I'd be pretty upset about an $800 fine for something.

MilwaukeeMike said:

22 mil is a lot of money no matter how much money you make. I would expect the money goes to the same place where all our hard-earned money goes to die. That abyss we call the federal government.

Guest said:

Googles Motto: Do Know Evil ;)

Guest said:

If you value what little privacy you have left, stay away from Google.

Ranger1st Ranger1st said:

$22 mil... that's what ? a week of interest on the US Nat. debt?

yorro said:

Everyone collects your information. Your credit card company collects your information. Your airlines collect your information. Your fastfood collects your information. Your favorite coffee shop collects your information.

What you buy, where you go, what you eat. All sold to potential buyers.

Thats what databases are for, its called data mining. I know because I'm in the industry.

Should you be worried? no! because (1) you are just some random digit (2) you are not important. (3) you are irrelevant as a single individual.

You are just statistics people. Companies gives 0 **** to John Doe's feelings.

ReederOnTheRun ReederOnTheRun said:

I'm sure $22.5 million is a big drop in the bucket since surely someone got into trouble over it. I just want to know one thing... where did the money from this fine go? I hope it's going somewhere to help our economy and not just lining someone's or some silly department's pockets. If I only made $100k/year I'd be pretty upset about an $800 fine for something.

You realize this is America right? Consider the pockets officially lined :-(

Neojt said:

does that make it the most expansive cookie :P

You think Cookie monster will like it ?

ok all jokes aside I think the courts should spen more time with real criminals instead of this but we know this is more profitable than aresting and prosecutong criminal that you have to give shelter,food ect

we live in a great world

wiyosaya said:

Everyone collects your information. Your credit card company collects your information. Your airlines collect your information. Your fastfood collects your information. Your favorite coffee shop collects your information.

What you buy, where you go, what you eat. All sold to potential buyers.

Thats what databases are for, its called data mining. I know because I'm in the industry.

Should you be worried? no! because (1) you are just some random digit (2) you are not important. (3) you are irrelevant as a single individual.

You are just statistics people. Companies gives 0 **** to John Doe's feelings.

Sounds like you are on the inside looking out. In any situation, it sometimes helps to imagine the opposite perspective.

Right now, because of the current state of the art in the industry, the focus does not appear to be on the individual; however, if any company were to come up with a way to target advertising to specific users (oh wait, isn't google trying to do that at this time) that would be worth a lot of money to advertisers since they can now target marketing to that specific individual. In a way, that gives them much more power over that individual because they can tailor their enticements to that individual, and thus play on the emotions of that individual to entice that individual to buy their product whether or not that individual really needs the product. Not all individuals are aware that marketers attempt to entice their audience through emotional manipulation.

What I am trying to say here is that marketers will attempt to sell individuals their crap in any way that they can, and the more they know about an individual, the more implicit power they have over that individual, and I see that as dangerous especially when naive individuals are the target.

While it sounds like you think that no one should be concerned about data collection, I have to disagree. I am reminded of this poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984):

When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn?t a Jew.

When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.

IMHO, this is off-topic of the article, though, because google said they were doing something, then did something completely different without notifying the targets of those actions. This is lying and deceptive. The fact that they lied to and deceived the users of safari is likely the reason behind the FTCs actions with this fine, and I, for one, am happy to see this. Just because google is the current fad does not mean that their business practices are beyond the rule of law.

Guest said:

Just love that the big title of the article is the $22.5 million fine and the last line was that Google's profit was $2.8 BILLION just in the last quarter....why would Google even care about this pity fine? Give them 5 minutes and they'll make it back. Who knows what other privacy of our's they are violating cause it don't really matter if they get caught or not.

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