Google Inc. has been ordered to crack open the wallet and pay a $22.5 million civil penalty for misrepresentaion of privacy policies.
The FTC says Google told users that the Safari browser was set to block cookies by default. Taking their word for it, users continued to surf the web, believing they were free of prying eyes. Not so. The FTC says that for a few months between 2011 and 2012, Google created a work around that placed tracking cookies for their DoubleClick network on millions of Macs, iPhones and iPads.
As if lying to the public wasn’t bad enough, the FTC says Google violated an agreement they had with the government agency that specifically forbid them from misrepresenting privacy options.
In layman’s terms, that means they agreed not to con people, then conned people anyway and lied about doing it.
Does Google care? Maybe that they got caught, but I don’t think they’re losing sleep over the $22.5 million. That’s just the cost of doing business.
Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC, says the penalty is about sending a message to all companies about the evils of non-compliance.
“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.”
The FTC has been pushing for more clarity of privacy options online, firmly suggesting an obvious Do Not Track option throughout the web. The reality is, that even with this option, most people won’t bother to check the box and ad networks will continue to thrive. The big problem would be if they force all web properties to not track by default, requiring people to opt-in if they wish to have cookies while they surf the web.
The Europeans are all over it. Can the US be far behind?