NEWS20 November 2012

Judge confirms Google’s $22m fine for Safari cookie drops

Legal North America

US — A proposed $22.5m fine payable by Google for a privacy breach has been approved by a federal judge, despite a consumer rights group’s plea for tougher punishment.

US district judge Susan Illston said the settlement, which was agreed between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Google after two months of negotiations, “sufficiently protects consumers from ongoing harm without exposing them to additional risks”.

Google was charged with dropped tracking cookies on the computers of Safari browser users who thought they had opted out. The FTC claimed Google had previously told Safari users that the browser’s default block on third-party cookies made it unnecessary for them to actively opt out of Google’s own advertising tracking cookie.

However, it is alleged that Google “exploited an exception to the browser’s default setting to place a temporary cookie from the DoubleClick domain” which then “opened the door to all cookies from the DoubleClick domain” including the advertising tracking cookie Google said would be blocked. DoubleClick is Google’s ad-serving technology platform.

The fine is the largest ever for a violation of a commission order. Since 2011 an FTC order has barred Google from misrepresenting the extent to which consumers can exercise control over the collection of their information.

Privacy advocates at Consumer Watchdog have been running a long-term campaign against Google and tried to persuade judges to increase the amount of the fine, saying it “amounts to loose change for a company like Google, which generates about $22.5m in revenue every four hours, hence Google should be fined at least $3 billion because of the number of people potentially affected”.

The judge dismissed this saying that she found that the fine and other facets of the settlement were all “fair, adequate and reasonable”.

“We’re glad the court agreed there was no merit to this challenge,” Google said in a statement.