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.