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FTC Fining Google Millions Over Safari Breach

By - Source: Bloomberg | B 23 comments

Google now faces millions in fines by the FTC thanks to the Safari browser fiasco.

Back in February, Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer discovered that Google, along with a few other companies, was intentionally circumventing Apple Safari's privacy feature using 3rd-party cookies. These slippery cookies allowed Google to provide Doubleclick ads that were specifically targeted at Safari users, quietly sneaking past the browser's tight privacy settings.

After the report went live, European regulators sent a detailed questionnaire to the company in March, seeking details -- the FTC wasn't too far behind. Google responded by saying it "didn't anticipate this would happen," and thus removed the offensive files in cooperation with officials investigating the complaints.

Now Google is having to negotiate with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over a possible multimillion dollar fine. The FTC has the authority to levy fines for violations of its consent decrees of up to $16,000 per day per violation. That means Google could end up paying well over $10 million dollars for its cookie "error."

But if the negotiations collapse, the FTC will push its case even further. Right now it's preparing to allege that Google deceived consumers and violated terms of a consent decree signed with the commission last year. Those terms prevent Google from misrepresenting how it handles user information, and requires the company to follow policies that protect consumer data in new products.

The consent degree stems from the Google Buzz fiasco that took place back in 2010. Google admitted to the FTC that it used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy policies while introducing it's now-closed Twitter-like social network. The FTC retaliated by forcing Google to agree to new privacy policies in which Google has now violated again thanks to the Safari cookie incident.

In February Mayer said that Google was one of four parties that were placing trackable cookies in Safari. "Google and Vibrant Media intentionally circumvent Safari’s privacy feature," he said. "Media Innovation Group and PointRoll serve scripts that appear to be derived from circumvention example code."

Apple enables cookie blocking by default. Every iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Mac ships with the privacy feature turned on, he added.

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Top Comments
  • 20 Hide
    schnitter , May 6, 2012 7:43 PM
    Sure 10 million for a company like Google isn't a big hit money-wise. The bad press that comes with it, however, is a big hit. I hate Ads with passion. I don't even watch TV because of the Commercials. Hating Ads, then, goes hand in hand with hating Google and their tracking ways.
  • 18 Hide
    molo9000 , May 6, 2012 7:36 PM
    10 Million is 0.1% of the profit Google made last year....
  • 16 Hide
    christarp , May 6, 2012 7:46 PM
    Good, taking advantage of something like that to TRACK users without their consent in ANY WAY deserves even more of a fine than that IMO
Other Comments
    Display all 23 comments.
  • 18 Hide
    molo9000 , May 6, 2012 7:36 PM
    10 Million is 0.1% of the profit Google made last year....
  • 20 Hide
    schnitter , May 6, 2012 7:43 PM
    Sure 10 million for a company like Google isn't a big hit money-wise. The bad press that comes with it, however, is a big hit. I hate Ads with passion. I don't even watch TV because of the Commercials. Hating Ads, then, goes hand in hand with hating Google and their tracking ways.
  • 16 Hide
    christarp , May 6, 2012 7:46 PM
    Good, taking advantage of something like that to TRACK users without their consent in ANY WAY deserves even more of a fine than that IMO
  • 8 Hide
    eddieroolz , May 6, 2012 8:15 PM
    While this is a good move to keep Google in check, I think the fine can be a lot harsher - especially considering that this was an intentional circumvention of a competitor's security.
  • -6 Hide
    cookoy , May 6, 2012 8:33 PM
    The standards for cookies, RFC 2109 and RFC 2965, specify that browsers should protect user privacy and not allow third-party cookies by default.
  • 10 Hide
    jaquith , May 6, 2012 9:09 PM
    Quote:
    Google responded by saying it "didn't anticipate this would happen,"

    No, they didn't think they'd be caught!
  • -2 Hide
    zoemayne , May 6, 2012 9:48 PM
    The word Fining looks strange..... i'm not sure if thats correct to have fine spelled like that hmmmmmmmmmm
  • -5 Hide
    wardoc22 , May 6, 2012 9:57 PM
    Man, I wish I had that sort of money.
  • 3 Hide
    sykozis , May 6, 2012 10:10 PM
    jaquithNo, they didn't think they'd be caught!

    QFT..... Doubt they'd have done it if they thought there was even a remote possibility of getting caught. Sad part is, I just bought an Android based smartphone to replace the WP7 phone I had. Now I'm having second thoughts....
  • 3 Hide
    jhansonxi , May 6, 2012 10:19 PM
    zoemayneThe word Fining looks strange..... i'm not sure if thats correct to have fine spelled like that hmmmmmmmmmm
    The tradition of English is that anyone can make up words with random syllables from most any language. If it's popular enough it will end up in dictionaries in a few years and become part of the "standard".
  • 2 Hide
    clindman , May 6, 2012 10:43 PM
    Google was quickly become a terrible big business.
  • -2 Hide
    nforce4max , May 6, 2012 11:36 PM
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrontojPWEE
  • 0 Hide
    tntom , May 6, 2012 11:38 PM
    This is a little out of character and hypocritical for Google to do this. In the past Google has opened dialogue with websites and competitors to alert them of flaws. But I guess someone at Google felt way over justified to take advantage of Apple users perhaps thinking they were pulling one on Apple. This was a really poor slip of judgement here. They did little to expose their competitors flaws and they victimized users who could of been potential customers. On top of that they got fined and really bad PR that calls into question the very principals Google needs to get and retain users. Trust. There whole business is to have people trust them with their data.
  • -7 Hide
    Anonymous , May 6, 2012 11:49 PM
    I think it was ok because Google did it to Apple users
  • 9 Hide
    slabbo , May 7, 2012 12:15 AM
    goes to show how secure safari is...
  • 3 Hide
    leo2kp , May 7, 2012 12:31 AM
    Drop in the bucket.
  • 3 Hide
    greenspoon , May 7, 2012 1:03 AM
    clindmanGoogle was quickly become a terrible big business.


    Google has long been one of these "terrible big businesses." No one wanted to admit it though.
  • 2 Hide
    gti88 , May 7, 2012 6:06 AM
    Safari users can get revenge if they install Firefox with Adblock+ and Cookie Monster.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , May 7, 2012 7:27 AM
    Of course Google should play nice- they get more like Microsoft every day- but it must be really nice for a government to have a nice little cash cow like the FTC who can syphon tens of millions of $$$ off big-hitting companies, into their own coffers. Nice work, if you can get it
  • 1 Hide
    HEXiT , May 7, 2012 10:44 AM
    companies will never stop doing things like this unless they are fined more than they will make from it... google will just shrug and pay up because they made more money than it cost em in court.
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