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FTC’s $22.5 Million Penalty For Google Is Insufficient Without Admission Of Wrongdoing, Consumer Watchdog Says; Group Hopes To Block Settlement

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Thu, Aug 9, 2012 at 11:56 am

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FTC’s $22.5 Million Penalty For Google Is Insufficient Without Admission Of Wrongdoing, Consumer Watchdog Says; Group Hopes To Block Settlement

SANTA MONICA, CA – The Federal Trade Commission’s record $22.5 million penalty against Google is inadequate unless the Internet giant admits its wrongdoing, Consumer Watchdog said today.

The nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group said it will try to block the settlement, which must still be approved by a federal judge, unless Google admits to violating the so called “Buzz” Consent Agreement with the Commission.  The FTC charged that Google claimed it was honoring privacy settings on iPads, iPhones and other devices using the Safari browser when in fact it was circumventing them.

Read the FTC complaint and proposed settlement here: http://www.ftc.gov/os/caselist/c4336/index.shtm.

The Commission voted 4-to-1 to approve the settlement with Google.  Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch opposed the settlement because it allows Google to deny liability.  He wrote that allowing the denial of liability, while imposing a civil penalty of $22.5 million “in circumstances such as these is unprecedented.”

“While the $22.5 million penalty levied against Google is a record for the FTC, it is woefully insufficient considering that Google refused to admit any liability or wrongdoing,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director.  “The Commission has allowed Google to buy its way out of trouble for an amount that probably is less than the company spends on lunches for its employees and with no admission it did anything wrong.”

Consumer Watchdog had filed a complaint in February with the FTC after Stanford Researcher Jonathan Mayer revealed how Google was circumventing privacy settings on Apple’s Safari browser.

“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 Simpson. “Clearly it violated its agreement with the FTC.”

Read Consumer Watchdog’s complaint to the FTC here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrleibowitz021712.pdf.

A study released Feb. 17 by Mayer of Stanford University’s Security Lab, and the Center for Internet and Society, found that Google was 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.

Read Jonathan Mayer’s study here: http://webpolicy.org/2012/02/17/safari-trackers/.

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Visit our website at: www.ConsumerWatchdog.org.

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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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