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Google Pays Pocket Change for Violating Safari Users' Privacy

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By William Peacock, Esq. on November 19, 2013 2:55 PM

Remember that time Google wrote cookies to deliberately circumvent privacy settings in Safari users' browsers and to track user activity?

No? No big deal. Sure, it was hugely invasive, but if the settlements are any indication, no one seems to be particularly concerned. The Internet giant, which had $14.9 billion in revenue last quarter, will pay about $17 million to 37 states as part of a settlement in ongoing litigation over the issue. According to The Associated Press, it would take the company about three hours to generate enough revenue to cover the tab.

Tracking Code

Before a graduate student at Stanford stumbled upon the code, Google had assured Safari (Apple's default browser) users that they would not be tracked unless they opted-in by changing their browser settings. Instead, the cookie used circumvented the browser settings, allowing Google to track users' behavior across multiple sites.

Google claimed that the entire matter was an accident and disabled the cookies after they were discovered.

Not the Only Payout

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission fined Google $22.5 million. At the time, it was the largest penalty ever for a civil violation, reports the AP.

Injunctive Relief

According to a press release from the New York Attorney General's office, Google has also agreed to do the following:

  • Not deploy the type of code used in this case to override a browser's cookie blocking settings without the consumer's consent unless it is necessary to do so in order to detect, prevent or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues.
  • Not misrepresent or omit material information to consumers about how they can use any particular Google product, service, or tool to directly manage how Google serves advertisements to their browsers.
  • Improve the information it gives consumers regarding cookies, their purpose, and how the cookies are managed by consumers using Google's products or services and tools.
  • Maintain systems designed to ensure the expiration of the third-party cookies set on Safari Web browsers while their default settings had been circumvented.

The AP reports that Google will maintain a special webpage dedicated to the company's cookie use for the next five years.

They're Still Snooping

If you think cookies are bad, according to Valleywag, the company is now testing a program that tracks smartphone users' locations to determine which stores they visit, where they eat, etc., in order to measure the impact of their mobile ads.

And it's not just Android phones. iPhone users who open a Google app, such as the Google search app, or Gmail, Chrome, or Google Maps, can also have their location tracked.

What do you think the payout on that will be, in 2015 or so -- $30 million?

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