Google’s unwavering mission to gather information about internet users may soon come with a hefty price tag attached, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Last month, we reported how Google was bypassing privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser but also Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. The resulting fall-out has involved an FTC investigation into whether Google violated an agreement from 2011 in which the company agreed not to “misrepresent” its privacy practices to users after the fall-out of Google’s first stab at a social networking service, Buzz. During Buzz-gate, the FTC concluded that Google hadn’t been forthright with users about the visibility of their private information and activities so, to resolve the matter, Google agreed to be more mindful of users’ privacy.
According to the Journal, if Google is found to have broken that agreement, it could receive a $16,000 fine for each violation on each day. So, if Google was tracking one person on five different days, that’s five different fines levied on Google for following that one person. You can see how those fines could add up extraordinarily fast.
One person close to the situation said the FTC has been seeking information about how many users were affected by the privacy breach. That would imply that the agency is attempting to calculate the size of a possible fine, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The Journal related a statement from a Google spokeswoman who, while confirming that Google will cooperate with any questions from officials, said, “It’s important to remember that we didn’t anticipate this would happen, and we have been removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers.”
Hopefully the spokeswoman’s meaning with that statement is that they didn’t expect Google would be accused of violating the Buzz-gate agreement with the FTC due to bypassing the security settings on Safari browsers, as incredible as that sounds. In all fairness, maybe Google thought Safari-gate would be unrelated to the Buzz-gate ordeal. As generous as that translation may be, though, that must be the only believable interpretation of that statement because the other, naive interpretation – that Google didn’t know that they were bypassing the privacy settings in Safari – is farcical. It is impossible for Google to not know that they were tracking people who didn’t want to be tracked. That’s like Google saying they didn’t realize they were breaking into people’s houses and eating all of the residents’ food. You can’t be honestly unaware of doing something that invasive without suffering from some pathological, reality-twisting impairment.
Either way, though, Google has to say that they didn’t “anticipate this would happen.” It’s the only way in which the company can avoid implicating itself.