Google Pays Record $22.5 Million Fine for Privacy Violations

Monday, August 13, 2012
Jonathan Mayer
Google has agreed to pay a record fine of $22.5 million for creating Internet programming that circumvented anti-tracking settings on computers and smart phones.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ordered the fine after Google’s cookie scheme, which was deemed a violation of privacy laws, was exposed in February by a Stanford University computer scientist.
ProPublica and Wired have reported that the FTC was not aware of Google’s illegal activities until Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer went public with his findings on his blog and in a story published by The Wall Street Journal.
The FTC has denied reports that Mayer figured out Google’s secret programming before the agency did. That may be questionable, though, considering that the FTC’s own computer equipment has limitations such as no Wi-Fi access and zealous security filters.
Google circumvented settings on Safari browsers and planted advertising cookies without the knowledge or consent of users. Advertisers were able to follow users as they jumped between Web sites, even if their browsers were set to avoid that kind of tracking.
Safari accounts for about 6% of desktop browsing and more than 50% of mobile browsing.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
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