Federal Trade Commission announced that Google will pay a $22.5 million penalty to settle charges that it misled Apple Safari browser users about Google’s use of tracking cookies.
According to FTC, Google told Safari users that their browsing activities wouldn’t be tracked by third-party tracking cookies when they clicked on websites or advertisements in Google’s Double Click advertising network. Third-party tracking cookies are pieces of computer code that can be embedded on a computer and allow advertisers to collect a user’s online information to target ads to him/her.
Google had told Safari users that they would be opted out automatically of such tracking as long as they didn’t change the browser’s default settings.
However, FTC charges that Google collected information, unbeknownst to Safari users, for several months in 2011 and 2012. In the settlement, the agency also requires Google to remove or disable all tracking cookies that it placed on Safari user’s computers. As part of the settlement, Google makes no admission of wrongdoing.
Privacy-rights expert Dan Auerbach believes that Google will heed FTC’s demand to disable all tracking cookies that it placed on Safari users’ devices and said he wouldn’t be surprised if changes were made internally at Google as a result. “I think the $22.5 million fine shows that FTC has teeth and that companies should be very careful and more mindful of users’ privacy,” says Auerbach, who is a former Google engineer and current staff member at Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is a privacy-rights advocacy group.
Safari is the default browser that’s used on iPad tablet computers, iPhone smartphones and Mac computers.