It’s been out of the news for awhile now, but you may remember that back in February Google got caught with their hand in the cookie jar, so to speak, regarding the privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser. Google designed a workaround that allowed third-party tracking cookies to be installed on users’ devices – both iOS devices and computers – by fooling Safari into thinking that the user had submitted a form allowing cookies to be set. This workaround enabled both Google and other advertisers to set tracking cookies on users’ devices even if they had their privacy settings adjusted so as to forbid the cookies.
As you might expect, there was a significant uproar over the issue. Google quickly issued a statement claiming that the workaround was developed in-house by Google, and meant solely to allow Google to deploy certain web features to users who had indicated in their account settings that they wished to activate them. Such features included Google’s +1 button on websites and targeted advertising. They insisted that the workaround was necessary because the unique structure of Safari prevented those features from functioning for those who had chosen to activate them. Unfortunately, the presence of the workaround allowed other parties to set tracking cookies for Safari users as well.
As you might expect, the news caused all manner of uproar, including a lawsuit and the attention of the U.S. Congress. Now it looks like Google is also looking at a hefty fine. Bloomberg is reporting this afternoon that negotiations between Google and the Federal Trade Commission are nearing completion.
According to “a person familiar with the matter,” Google could be on the hook for upwards of $10 million as the FTC collects its first fine for internet privacy issues. According to the FTC, Google broke a 2011 consent order dealing with user privacy and engaged in “unfair and deceptive” practices by creating the workaround that allowed cookies to be set on the browsers of those who did not want them.
What do you think? Is a $10 million fine a fair punishment for Google? Sound off in the comments.