Consumer Watchdog: Google’s Safari-Hack Settlement Not In Public Interest

Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 11:38 am

    The Federal Trade Commission’s proposed $22.5 million settlement with Google for privacy violations doesn’t impose stringent enough conditions on the company, the group Consumer Watchdog argues in new court papers.

    The tentative deal does not “prevent Google from continuing to profit from the misconduct that it previously engaged in,” Consumer Watchdog says. “Indeed, it permits Google to continue to profit from its wrongdoing indefinitely,” the group argues. The organization says the settlement should be rejected because it’s not in the public interest.

    If approved by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco, the deal would resolve charges against Google stemming from allegations that the company developed a workaround to Safari’s no-tracking settings. Google — which also faces a potential class-action lawsuit over the alleged hack — did not admit wrongdoing in the case.

    Google allegedly bypassed Safari’s settings to enable Safari users to like ads with the +1 button. But once the workaround was in place, Google’s DoubleClick was able to track people in order to target ads to them. Google promised that it will allow all tracking cookies that it set on Safari users expire by next year as part of the settlement.

    But Consumer Watchdog says Google should do more than let the cookies expire. The group wants Google to delete all data — including IP addresses — collected from Safari users.

    Consumer Watchdog also says that Google shouldn’t be able to draw on aggregated data gathered from Safari users for analytics. The group argues that the information collected from those people “can still be used to target others (sometimes called ‘lookalikes’) who exhibit similar behaviors.”

    “The proposed order could prevent this result simply by requiring Google to expunge the wrongfully collected data from its database,” the group argues.

    Earlier, Consumer Watchdog filed papers opposing the settlement for three reasons. First, the group said the “miniscule” $22.5 million penalty was too low. Second, Consumer Watchdog argued that the settlement should include an injunction prohibiting Google from deceiving users about privacy. And third, the group said Google should be required to admit liability in the case.

    The government said in its response, filed last month, that a fine of $22.5 million was appropriate based on its estimate that Google’s profits from the Safari hack amounted to just $4 million. “Assuming … that Google is a profit-maximizing company, it makes no sense for it to engage in a behavior that costs more than the revenue it would earn,” the FTC argued in its court papers.

    Consumer Watchdog challenges that $4 million figure. “The government has not given this court any insight into how it made its calculations,” the organization argues, adding that it needs more evidence from Google in order to determine the extent of profits from the workaround.

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