The largest fine ever levied against a company by the FTC has been drawn this week up against Google for their breach of Apple’s Safari web browser. This situation has had Google and the FTC in talks for several weeks and involved a breaking of terms of consent by the search giant through Apple’s software privacy settings. As the FTC calls it, Google’s penalty is a “clear message” to all those companies looking to skip abiding by the FTC’s orders in the USA.
Apple’s software privacy settings were to block certain functions of websites if the user so chose, but Google has been found guilty of bypassing those limits and planting cookies which then tracked user’s internet browsing. While this might seem like a rather terrifying concept, you should know that it goes on all the time, and that it’s rare (at the moment, anyway) to be browsing the web without a website noting in some way or another that you are present at it. This is different from a tracking virus which could much more maliciously track everything you do on your computer – Google isn’t involved in such things as far as we know.
“The record-setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order. No matter how big or small, all companies must abide by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promises to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place.” – FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz
Google’s penalty for breaking the FTC’s regulations against recording browsing behavior without consent is just $22.5 million USD – that is, again, the largest fine for a case such as this, but basically a drop in the bucket for a company as large as Google. David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s bureau of competition, spoke today on a conference call for the issue.
“Google is paying what we think is a heavy price for violating our prior order. We hope this sends a clear message to Google that violations of the order and failure to keep commitments on privacy is going to be punished severely. This sends the message that the FTC isn’t kidding around.” – Vladeck
The FTC’s previous largest penalty pushed to a company was against a data broker by the name of ChoicePoint Inc. in 2006 for $10 million in civil penalties and $5 million in consumer redress. According to Business Week, the FTC is also currently in settlement talks on privacy allegations with no less than MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook as well. The cash shall be flowing imminently!