It looks like the Federal Trade Commission is trying to make a statement in favor of users’ privacy online. Google will pay a record breaking fine for its tracking of Safari.
Google has been accused of tracking Safari without users’ knowing about it. The company agreed earlier this week to pay a record fine that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) set at $22.5 million.
“Google is paying what we think is a heavy price” said David Vladeck, director of the FTC competition bureau of the $22.5 million Google agreed to pay. “This send the message that the FTC isn’t kidding around” added Vladeck during a conference call.
“The social contract has to be that if you’re going to hold on to people’s most private data, you have to do a better job of honoring your privacy commitments” said Vladeck. “And if there’s a message the commission is trying to send today, it’s that” reads a statement of the director of Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Vladeck added Google didn’t argue against the fine or the complaint. However Vladeck did find troubling Google’s excuse that it didn’t knew it was tracking Safari and bypassing its guidelines on blocking cookies from ad networks. “As a regulator, it is hard to know which answer is worse: I didn’t know or I did it deliberately” added Vladeck.
Google did not admit it actually tracked Safari. “We set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users” reads the company’s statement. Google has “taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple’s browsers”.
It wasn’t until last year that the FTC got news about Google’s tracking of Safari. The company violated Safari’s own privacy settings and tracked whatever users where browsing online. It tracked Safari so that Google could display personalized ads to the users browsing through Apple’s Safari.
President of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Marc Rotenberg, argued the FTC’s fine is satisfactory. “The FTC fine follows from the complaint that EPIC brought about Google Buzz. Google’s hack of the Safari browser clearly violated the terms of the order” said Marc Rotenberg.
Google was put under probation for twenty years, and after the first year it has been involved in several privacy scandals. The company is forced to submit to privacy audits on a regular basis.