Google in trouble in Europe and U.S. for Safari privacy violations

Google is being investigated by regulators in the United States and the European Union for circumventing Safari’s privacy controls, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The story starts about a month ago, when the WSJ broke the news that Google and a few other advertisers had been bypassing default privacy controls on Apple’s mobile and desktop browser Safari and depositing cookies, which can track browsing habits. The big issue is that Safari blocks cookies by default, and Google had written code to get around that.

After getting wind of the issue, Microsoft investigated and found that the same practice was affecting people who used Internet Explorer, where cookies are also blocked by default.

Google removed the code from its site to remedy the problem, but clearly enough damage had been done. Now, U.S. state and federal agencies and France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) are investigating Google’s privacy missteps.

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating Google to see if this practice violates a settlement reached between the search engine and the U.S. government last year. Terms of the agreement prevent Google from misrepresenting its privacy policies, reports the WSJ. If the FTC finds Google in violation, the company could face a hefty fine. The company would be charged $16,000 per violation, per day, which could add up to a lot of money.

In Europe, the issue has been added to the CNIL’s European investigation of Google, which includes recent changes the company made to its privacy policy, which went into effect March 1.

VentureBeat reached out to Google and received this response:

We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. We created a temporary communication link between Safari browsers and Google’s servers, so that we could ascertain whether Safari users were also signed into Google, and had opted for personalized ads and other content. However, the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser. We will of course cooperate with any officials who have questions. But it’s important to remember that we didn’t anticipate this would happen, and we have been removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers.


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