Google faces $22.5 million FTC fine over Safari cookies

News by Dan Raywood

Google is to face a $22.5 million (£14.4 million) fine over a charge from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that it placed cookies on user's computers via Safari.

Google is to face a $22.5 million (£14.4 million) fine over a charge from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that it placed cookies on user's computers via Safari.

Violating an earlier privacy settlement between Google and the FTC, the FTC said that Google misrepresented to Safari users that it would not place cookies or serve targeted ads to those users.

The FTC complaint said that for several months in 2011 and 2012, Google placed a certain advertising tracking cookie on the computers of Safari users who visited sites within Google's DoubleClick advertising network. This was despite Google previously telling these users that they would automatically be opted out of such tracking as a result of the default settings of the Safari browser used in Macs, iPhones and iPads.

Despite these promises, the FTC charged that Google placed advertising tracking cookies on consumers' computers, in many cases by circumventing the Safari browser's default cookie-blocking setting.

It said that Google exploited an exception to the browser's default setting to place a temporary cookie from the DoubleClick domain and 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.

The FTC deemed that the fine is an appropriate remedy for the charge that Google misrepresented to Safari browser users how to avoid targeted advertising by Google, and the order also requires Google to disable all the racking cookies it had said it would not place on consumers' computers.

Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, said: “The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order. 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.”

A Google spokesperson told BBC News that the workaround had been employed to help it deploy its +1 button and said that the FTC was focused on something deployed two years before its consent decree and a year before Apple changed its cookie-handling policy.

A spokesperson said: “We set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users. We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple's browsers.”

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