Google knowingly bypassed browser’s default setting of not accepting third-party cookies
The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has confirmed that Google will pay a $22.5m civil penalty to settle charges that it used cookies to track users of Apple’s Safari browser and serve them targeted ads, even if they had opted out.
Reports emerged earlier this month that a deal was close, with the FTC claiming Google had violated an earlier privacy settlement between the two parties.
The fine is a record amount for a violation of a Commission order, the FTC said in a statement. The statement added that the FTC wants companies to keep their promises when it comes to user privacy. Google, with the motto "Don’t Be Evil", did not meet the FTC’s standards in this case.
"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."
The specifics of the case are that for a brief period during 2011 and 2012, Google placed a cookie onto the computers of Safari users who visited specific websites within its DoubleClick advertising network. The default setting of Safari is that it does not accept third-party cookies and Google led these users to believe that would be enough for them to opt out of the scheme.
However, that simply isn’t true and the FTC accused Google of bypassing Safari’s default settings and placing a tracking cookie on user’s computers..
According to the FTC, "Google exploited an exception to the browser’s default setting to place a temporary cookie from the DoubleClick domain. Because of the particular operation of the Safari browser, that initial temporary cookie opened the door to all cookies from the DoubleClick domain, including the Google advertising tracking cookie that Google had represented would be blocked from Safari browsers."