Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) was fined $22.5 million by the US Federal Trade Commission, the largest such fine imposed on a single company, for by-passing a “do not track” privacy setting selected by users, and monitoring web surfing by these users.
According to the AppleInsider, though Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) does not have to admit wrong-doing as a part of the settlement, this decision was actually dissented by Commissioner J Thomas Rosch. He was over-ruled 4:1, with the Commission saying, “We strongly disagree with Commissioner Rosch’s view, that if the Commission allows a defendant to deny the complaint’s substantive allegations, the settlement is not in the public interest. Here, as in all cases, a defendant’s denial of liability in a settlement agreement has no bearing on the Commission’s determination as to whether it has reason to believe the defendant has violated the law, or that a proposed settlement will afford appropriate relief for the Commission’s charges.”
The fine was the result of an inquiry launched after Stanford University stumbled on Google’s modus operandi, which was to install a cookie, via ads on popular websites, regardless of privacy settings selected by the user of the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s Safari browser. Google could therefore assess users’ surfing habits without permission. The search giant also appears to have violated a consent decree it signed with the FTC last year, regarding cookies on Safari, as reported by Bloomberg Businessweek.
According to a Google spokesman, “We set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users. The FTC is focused on a 2009 help center page, published more than two years before our consent decree, and a year before Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) changed its cookie-handling policy. We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information from Apple’s browsers.”
The FTC has also ordered Google to remove and disable all tracking cookies by February 2014, according to James Kohn, FTC’s associate director of enforcement.
Google has often been targeted by privacy groups for its activities to collect user information, and the FTC fine led Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which filed the initial complaint in February 2010 to say, “although we had previously expressed concerns about the failure of the FTC to enforce its own orders, we are pleased that the commission has now taken action to protect the privacy of Internet users.”