Business

Google pays up $17M for ignoring user privacy settings in Safari

Above: Somehow this Google sign looks a bit ominous.

Image Credit: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat
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Google settled another privacy lawsuit today, promising to pay $17 million for circumventing users’ privacy wishes.

The case centered around Apple’s Safari browser, which had certain default privacy settings concerning tracking and cookies. Google, according to this lawsuit, went around those settings and used cookies to track user activity, even where users had specified that they did not want to be followed.

“Consumers should be able to know whether there are other eyes surfing the web with them. By tracking millions of people without their knowledge, Google violated not only their privacy, but also their trust,” said New York attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman in a statement.

Cookies give marketers information about a user’s activity on a website. They can tell a company when you access the site and, if the cookie doesn’t expire for a long period of time, a company can track your habits over time. A third-party cookie will further insert itself into your browser without you even having to be on the company’s website. It can then collect even broader information about where you go on the Internet.

This kind of tracking is controversial and thus many browsers offer the option to turn off cookies. When companies like Google come up from behind and secretly use cookies, however, it’s a big privacy concern.

Google settled a similar lawsuit with the Federal Trade Commission last year. In that case, Google paid out $22.5 million. In this case, on top of the fine, Google promises:

  1. Not to use the code that overrides the privacy settings unless Google has otherwise gotten permission from the user or it needs to override these settings for fraud or security reasons.
  2. Not to “misrepresent” the way Google’s tools, products, and services work as it pertains to advertising in users’ browsers.
  3. Give users more and better information about how cookies work.
  4. Make sure all those cookies used on the “compromised” Safari browsers involved in this case expire.

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