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Google Settles Privacy Suit with 37 States for $17 Million
Google Settles Privacy Suit with 37 States for $17 Million

By Seth Fitzgerald
November 19, 2013 2:48PM

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Cookies are generally used to track people's Internet usage and are one of the main tools employed by advertisers, many of which use Google AdWords for their ads. By disabling those privacy settings on the Safari Web browser, Google was allowing more advertisers to target users even though they were breaking certain rules in order to do so.
 



Google has settled a privacy lawsuit with 37 states and the District of Columbia for $17 million. The lawsuit stemmed from Google's use of tracking cookies on Apple's Safari Web browser from June 2011 to February 2012, when it had led users to believe their Web surfing was not being tracked.

Along with paying $17 million, Google agreed it would no longer override browser settings or omit information that is important to users when dealing with cookies and privacy settings.

Overriding Settings

The first person to notice that Google was disabling certain settings on Safari was Stanford privacy and law researcher Jonathan Mayer. Mayer found that the search giant was using a snippet of JavaScript to override user settings, allowing it to leave cookies on computers.

Cookies are generally used to track people's Internet usage and are one of the main tools employed by advertisers, many of which use Google AdWords for their ads. By disabling those privacy settings, Google was allowing more advertisers to target users even though they were breaking certain rules in order to do so.

Safari users who had been trying to prevent cookies from being installed on their computer were doing so due to concerns regarding how much information advertisers have been able to obtain on them.

Even though Google maintains it never collected private user data with this practice, it agreed to pay the $17 million anyway. Considering how large Google is, the company likely wanted the case to go away and was no longer interested in fighting it.

Correcting the Issue

As soon as articles began to come out confronting Google over its decision to override browser settings, the search giant removed cookies from the affected users' Safari browsers.

"Unlike other major browsers, Apple’s Safari browser blocks third-party cookies by default. However, Safari enables many Web features for its users that rely on third parties and third-party cookies, such as 'Like' buttons. Last year, we began using this functionality to enable features for signed-in Google users on Safari who had opted to see personalized ads and other content -- such as the ability to '+1' things that interest them,” said Google's senior VP for communications and public policy, Rachel Whetstone.

An almost identical case was settled for $22 million in 2012 between Google and the Federal Trade Commission. Google refused to say that it was collecting private user data in either instance but it put up little opposition to the settlements.

Whether or not private data was actually collected through this practice, Google still violated user rights by overriding their own browser settings, which is why the company corrected the issue so quickly after the word got out.

Even though the users were the ones that had to deal with the privacy violation, according to the law, they will not receive compensation as a result of this case.
 

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