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FTC Appears Ready To Fine Google Millions For iPad, iPhone Privacy Breach

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Fri, May 4, 2012 at 3:02 pm

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FTC Appears Ready To Fine Google Millions For iPad, iPhone Privacy Breach

Consumer Watchdog Complained To Commission After Hack Was Discovered

SANTA MONICA, CA – The Federal Trade Commission appears ready to fine Google millions of dollars for hacking around privacy settings on iPhones and iPads.  Consumer Watchdog filed a complaint in February with the FTC after Stanford Researcher Jonathan Mayer revealed what the Internet giant was doing.

Sara Forden of Bloomberg News today reported the Commission is negotiating with Google about how big the fine will be.  She cited an unidentified source as saying the fine could amount to more than $10 million.

“Google hacked past a key privacy setting on iPhones and iPads and other devices using Apple’s Safari browser, placed tracking cookies on them and then lied, saying the settings were still effective,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “I am delighted the FTC appears ready to take strong action against an obvious violation of Google’s promises to honor users’ privacy in its ‘Buzz’ Consent Decree with the Commission.”

Under the terms of the consent decree, the FTC can fine Google up to $16,000 per violation per day.

Click here to read Consumer Watchdog’s complaint to the FTC.

A study released Feb. 17 by Jonathan Mayer of Stanford University’s Security Lab, and the Center for Internet and Society, found that Google has been circumventing a privacy setting in Apple’s Safari web browser.  Like most web browsers, Safari provides the option not to receive third-party “cookies.”  Cookies are small bits of code placed on the browser and can be used by ad networks to track you as you surf the web. Blocking third-party cookies is supposed to prevent such tracking.

Safari is the primary browser on the iPhone and iPad. It is also the default browser on Apple’s computers.

Click here to read Jonathan Mayer’s study.

The Stanford study found that three other companies – Vibrant Media Inc., WPP PLC’s Media Innovation Group LLC and Gannett Co.’s PointRoll Inc. — were also circumventing the Safari privacy setting.

Mayer’s study was first reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Click here to read the Journal report.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 349 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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