Google Whacked With Record $22.5M Privacy Fine

Firm used loophole to get past Safari privacy controls

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 10, 2012 2:51 AM CDT | Updated Aug 10, 2012 3:49 AM CDT

(Newser) – Tracking Internet users who had a "do not track" privacy setting switched on has cost Google $22.5 million. The fine, the largest the Federal Trade Commission has ever levied against a company, came after investigators found that the search firm had bypassed privacy settings in Apple's Safari browser to track users and show them personalized ads, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Google—which does not have to admit to wrongdoing as part of the settlement—exploited a loophole that let its cookies be installed via advertisements on popular websites, even if users' browser preferences had been set to reject them.

"This sends the message that the FTC isn't kidding around," said the chief of the commission's competition bureau. The head of the Big Brother Watch privacy group applauded the heavy fine. "It's an essential part of a properly functioning market that consumers are in control of their personal information, and are able to take steps to protect their privacy," he said. "The size of the fine in this case should deter any company from seeking to exploit underhanded means of tracking consumers. It is essential that anyone who seeks to over-ride consumer choices about sharing their data is held to account."

Google says it bypassed privacy controls to display buttons for its social network.
Google says it bypassed privacy controls to display buttons for its social network.   (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
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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. - FTC Chairman Jon Liebowitz

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