Google slapped with fine over online tracking
10 August 2012
Search engine giant Google is set to pay the largest fine that the US Federal Trade Commission has ever levied on a company.
The internet titan is set to cough up $22.5m (approximately £14.4m) after it transpired that Google adverts were routing around an option in Apple’s Safari web browser which allowed the user to specify that they did not want their online activity tracked.
The tracking of user behaviour is done via “cookies”, small chunks of data which record various user interactions with a website. Some privacy-conscious web surfers choose to forbid the sites they visit from making use of these, but it was found that some adverts provided by Google were tricking the Safari browser into believing that a user interacting with an advertisement meant that they had made an exception and were permitting that site to track their behaviour.
However, Google claimed that their intent had been to enable the +1 functionality of their social network Google+, and that no personal data had been collected from users.
And the deal reached with the US Federal Trade Commission does not compel Google to admit any wrongdoing, being a penalty for misrepresentation of what they were doing rather than for the methods involved.
A statement from Google played down the issue, stating that “the FTC is focused on a 2009 help centre page published more than two years before our consent decree, and a year before Apple changed its cookie-handling policy.
“We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple's browsers.”
They stressed that Google strives for “the highest standards of privacy and security for our users”.
But the FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz warned: “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.”