Google to pay $17 m to settle privacy case

Written by New York Times | San Francisco | Updated: Nov 20 2013, 15:16pm hrs
Google agreed on Monday to pay $17 million to 37 states and the District of Columbia in a wide-reaching settlement over tracking consumers online without their knowledge.

The case involved Googles bypassing of privacy settings in Apples Safari browser to use cookies to track users and show them advertisements in 2011 and 2012. Google has said it discontinued circumventing the settings early last year, after the practice was publicly reported, and stopped tracking Safari users and showing them personalised ads.

The fine is a tiny fraction of the billions of dollars that Google earns in advertising revenue each year. But the case is one of a growing pile of government probes, lawsuits and punishments related to privacy matters at the company. They include cases involving a social networking tool called Buzz, illegal data collection by Street View vehicles and accusations of wiretapping to show personalised ads in Gmail.

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

Google, in a statement, said: We work hard to get privacy right at Google and have taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apples browsers. Were pleased to have worked with the state attorneys general to reach this agreement.

In addition to the fine, Google also agreed to avoid using software code that overrides a browsers cookie-blocking settings, to avoid omitting or misrepresenting information to consumers about how they use Google products or control the ads they see, to maintain for five years a web page explaining what cookies are and how to control them, and to ensure that the cookies tied to Safari browsers expire.

We look at this and say its a good development for online privacy when the state attorneys general are able to enforce their laws and get Google to change their practices, said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy research non-profit that has filed complaints against Google.