Google will pay a $22.5 million penalty to the Federal Trade Commission, which claims that the company placed ad-tracking cookies on the devices of Safari users who visited Websites within the Google DoubleClick ad network.
That cookie placement came despite Google’s assurances that those Safari users had been automatically opted out of tracking thanks to default cookie-blocking settings on the browser. Google claimed earlier this year that the cookie placement was unintentional.
“Google exploited an exception to the browser’s default setting to place a temporary cookie from the DoubleClick domain,” read the FTC’s explanation. “Because of the particular operation of the Safari browser, that initial temporary cookie opened the door to all cookies from the DoubleClick domain.”
The FTC believes that violated a previous settlement reached with Google in late 2011 over the collection of user information. “The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order,” Jon Feibowitz, chairman of the FTC, wrote in an Aug. 9 statement. “No matter how big or small, all companies must abide by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promises to consumers.”
However, that $22.5 million penalty won’t make much of a dent in Google’s bottom line. The search-engine giant reported consolidated revenues of $12.21 billion for the second quarter of 2012, a year-over-year increase of 35 percent.
Also worth noting: The FTC’s complaint “is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law,” according to the agency. “This consent order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendant that the law has been violated.”
Certainly Google’s official statement on the matter was terse and very much to the point. “We set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users,” it read. “The FTC is focused on a 2009 help center page published more than two years before our consent decree, and a year before Apple changed its cookie-handling policy.” That page has been changed, the company added, and steps have been taken to remove the ad cookies from Apple’s browsers.
As more and more IT vendors turn to the cloud as a delivery medium for software, the browser—and the technologies underlying it—assumes progressively more importance.