Google faces FTC fine for spying on Safari users

Google could be receiving a heavy fine directly from the US Federal Trade Commission in the near future, after the discovery Google exploited privacy options in Apple's Safari web browser. Google had been accused of writing cookie code intentionally overruling Safari's built-in user options. These options, such as disabling tracking, would then be rendered null and void, and Google could continue collecting information on users accessing the web via Safari whether they consented or not.

If the fine is given approval by the five FTC commissioners, Google could receive a $22.5 million dollar fine (£14.5 million GBP). This would set a record as being the largest penalty for any company from the FTC. Currently, ChoicePoint Inc. holds that record. In 2006, the company was fined $15 million by the FTC.

ChoicePoint Inc. was a data aggregation company in Georgia. Security breaches resulted in the theft of data, and ChoicePoint became known for extremely poor management in the aftermath of these incidents. Eventually, mass identity theft caused the FTC to get involved, fining the company and setting a record for the largest sum ever charged. This left ChoicePoint in a bind, which it could only escape in 2008 when it was bought outright. Their buyer was Reed Elsevier, and the company purchased ChoicePoint for $3.6 billion dollars.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple's cookie blocking made an exception for "interactive" data collection. Google sought to exploit this oddity in Safari's cookies, inserting fake form code into pages that were otherwise non-interactive. Safari was then convinced it was dealing with interactive data, though it was not. Google had an official statement on the fine from one of their spokespeople. This spokesperson has stated that the company was taking steps to remove the ad tracking cookies, but reiterated the fact they did not collect any personally identifiable data.

The floodgates could soon open, letting other countries fine Google for the same reason. A wider anti-trust investigation is also ongoing due to claim that Google's search results are skewed towards their own products, such as the Chrome web browser. If you've tried using Google services, such as YouTube, you'll have noticed the abundance of "Get Chrome" adverts. Coupled with Google's search results, the company is being investigated for potentially breaching anti-trust agreements.

Google claims that no personal information was ever collected from what happened, but to simply accept that would be to miss the point. The point is that users made the decision that they did not want to have their information collected, and Google did so knowingly. The company, which gained recognition for its internal slogan of "Don't be evil" in the past, might not be acting evilly, but it is acting against the wishes of its users.

Source: Computing.co.uk

 

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18 Comments

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First mapcars stealing wifi packets from personal unprotected networks. Now this... No wonder I dont trust Google with my data.

NeoPogo said,
First mapcars stealing wifi packets from personal unprotected networks. Now this... No wonder I dont trust Google with my data.
Like you trust every other company that tracks you?

Remember the issue with MS and IE with the Do Not Track option? Remember that most companies are BY LAW NOT REQUIRED TO ACKNOWLEDGE IT.

I wonder how Google can be fined for not breaking the law. If companies are allowed to disregard a DNT request, how can Google get in trouble?

Also, wasn't Facebook caught installing tracking cookies into browsers before this? Where's their fine??

**** the FCC.

<Puts on Asbestos Suit>
Well really Safari users should use a less buggy, more secure and better Web Browser

<Sits back with Popcorn>

Imagine what's going on on Chrome...

In a while pop-ups will start popping out of nowhere, saying: "Hey, fool! You forgot your phone! Don't go out without it! It's over there... Also, take a pis$ now 'cause you'll regret it in 12 mins & 34 secs".

PC EliTiST said,
Imagine what's going on on Chrome...

In a while pop-ups will start popping out of nowhere, saying: "Hey, fool! You forgot your phone! Don't go out without it! It's over there... Also, take a pis$ now 'cause you'll regret it in 12 mins & 34 secs".

Chrome =/= Facebook

I think you're confused.

illegaloperation said,
Is this a joke?

$22.5 million is pocket change for Google.

But if it's more than the profits they did/could have made from their actions.. then it's reason enough to not do it again..

still1 said,

like all companies out ther.

Thank you for bringing that up. People act like Google is the only one doing this or something... They aren't.

PALMERx64 said,

Thank you for bringing that up. People act like Google is the only one doing this or something... They aren't.

Agreed, but the problem here is that Google is the one that got caught with their pants down, and in addition, Google shouldn't have taken advantage of the exploit. They could keep saying that didn't gather personal information, however, the fact remains that they did something unethical to Safari users.

still1 said,

like all companies out ther.

so that makes it right then?
just fine them, it's f-ing time - especially after the pathetic fine they got for the wifi-mapping fiasco

hm...people comment here and they don't know what they are talking about.
first, you have to give permission to google to make them collect this data... so its no like they are spying, you gave them permission or it wont collect. second, its not personal data they collect... third people are getting hurt and throw their emotions here. lol

@Morden, Google was fined 25k for wifi. thats pocket chnage for them.

PALMERx64 said,

Thank you for bringing that up. People act like Google is the only one doing this or something... They aren't.

You are right, they are NOT the only company.

However, they are one of the few companies that make their entire revenue from doing this. They are also the only 'major' company that does this.

Although an argument against Apple could be made with the iPhone and iPad, and the fines they have had to pay around the world, especially when their tracking was intercepted and used to track soldiers and opposing factions in countries and murder them.

However, Google has a better model, as they make money from the information they have sold that is used to find an murder people, Apple didn't make money off deaths like Google does.

** There are numerous international news stories of Google data being sold to countries where they use Google like the CIA/NSA to spy on their citizens. I personally know people that their family members were killed and the information revealing their purported 'subversion' came from Google. I also know people that fled their counties during rebellion and where tracked down in other countries and disappeared, and the trail again went back to data acquired from Google.

So ya, everyone does it.. Except not 'everyone' does it, and not everyone uses it to completely undermine the capitalistic markets and get people killed.