Google fined by Federal Trade Commission for Safari privacy breach

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With recent moves by Apple to decrease its dependence on Google applications and software, its very clear that there is no love lost between the rival tech firms.

Submitted: August 11, 2012

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Submitted: August 11, 2012

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With recent moves by Apple to decrease its dependence on Google applications and software, its very clear that there is no love lost between the rival tech firms. Announcing some weeks back that it would be removing the Google Maps app from its operating softwares; saying that it would be developing its own, Apple this week followed this announcement by saying that it would be removing the YouTube app from its latest version of its smartphone OS, the iOS6. Now, in yet another blow to Google, the US Federal Trade Commission has imposed a fine on the internet giant, after privacy row that erupted between the two rival companies.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) imposed the single largest fine on any company in its history with the penalty on Google, ordering it to pay $22.5 million to Apple after it was discovered that the internet search engine powerhouse had been using Apple’s web browser to monitor users despite the fact that they had opted for ‘Do Not Track’ settings.

In a statement, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said, "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 penalty given by the FTC in particular addresses the fact that Google misrepresented its activities, not however the manner in which the website bypassed Safari’s cookie settings to monitor user’s internet activities.

This fact was brought to light by a Stanford University researcher who noted that despite the cookie settings on a user’s computer, Google was able to bypass these and use the information gleaned for targeted advertising. The researcher discovered that Google had been exploiting a loophole that allowed Google’s cookies to be installed on user’s computers via internet adverts. This enabled Google to follow people’s web use despite not having permission to do so. Google maintained that no personal information was obtained and even in their court settlement under the FTC, they did admit to any wrongdoing. A statement from Google stated, "We set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users. The FTC is focused on a 2009 help centre page published more than two years before our consent decree, and a year before Apple changed its cookie-handling policy. We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple's browsers."

Commenting, Nick Pickles, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch said, "It's an essential part of a properly functioning market that consumers are in control of their personal information and are able to take steps to protect their privacy. The size of the fine in this case should deter any company from seeking to exploit underhand means of tracking consumers. It is essential that anyone who seeks to over-ride consumer choices about sharing their data is held to account.”


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