Google is again blaming technical glitches for violating privacy policies and collecting personal data, this time from those using Apple’s Safari web browser. Google has agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission $22.5 million – the largest amount that the FTC has ever fined – because they sneakily undermined the privacy settings of millions of Safari users by using computer code to trick Safari into granting Google access to user activity through cookies.
According the FTC, Google signed a 20-year privacy breach order just last year, and they violated this order by leading users of Safari to believe that they were not tracking their online activity for the purpose of ad targeting. They weren’t buying Google’s so-called “technical glitch” as a valid excuse and, quite frankly, neither do we since it seems to be their go-to answer every time they’re caught hiding the fact that they are collecting personal user data.
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While the fine that Google has been ordered to pay seems hefty, many say that it is not enough. Even the FTC commissioner, J. Thomas Rosch, said that it was inexcusable that Google was allowed to settle without admitting what they did. In his dissenting statement he said that, “in circumstances such as these, it is unprecedented,” in allowing Google to shirk any liability. He went on to say that, given that Google made over $36 billion in ad fees just last year, the fine is minuscule.
David Vladeck, the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection director, felt differently, saying, “We have Google under order for another 19 years, and I think this civil penalty order sends another message to Google that the FTC is not kidding around.” Part of the reason that Google’s fine was not larger was because it was a small period of time that Google was collecting data from Safari users, and they did not gain significant revenue from it. Although that seems an insignificant point if their intent was still to gain revenue from violating user privacy and just failed at it – a point that is still a high level of concern to Safari users whose data was stolen, as well any Google product users who now have to wonder if Google is behaving as they promise.
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