Google to Pay $17M to Settle Safari Browser Tracking Case

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-11-19 Print this article Print
Google settlement

In addition to the $17 million settlement with the states, Google also agreed not to use similar code "to override a browser's cookie-blocking settings without the consumer's consent unless it is necessary to do so in order to detect, prevent or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues," according to the settlement. Google also agreed to "not misrepresent or omit material information to consumers about how they can use any particular Google product, service or tool to directly manage how Google serves advertisements to their browsers"

Google will also provide better information to consumers about tracking cookies and how they can be managed, as well as continue to "maintain systems designed to ensure the expiration of the third-party cookies set on Safari Web browsers while their default settings had been circumvented," according to the statement.

In addition to New York and Washington, D.C., the other plaintiffs in the case were the states of Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey, Texas, Vermont, Washington, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, District of Columbia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Another user privacy case is still pending against Google involving the then-undisclosed collection of unsecured wireless personal user data during Street View imaging projects around the nation. In September, Google lost its latest court appeal in the matter, which occurred when the company collected the WiFi data from unsuspecting citizens as its Street View vehicles drove around communities throughout the United States. Google attempted to get the case thrown out by saying the WiFi communications it had captured were not in violation of federal wiretapping laws, but the latest court again rejected that argument.

In a similar case in Europe in April 2013, Google was hit with an $189,167 fine in Germany for Street View data collection that occurred there without disclosure to affected residents as Street View vehicles combed German streets collecting information for its maps from 2007 to 2010.

The Street View program came under scrutiny both in the United States and in Europe after it was learned that Google was gathering the information street by street during those years. The company apparently collected unsecured WiFi data as the vehicles drove around cities and neighborhoods, including personal information such as passwords, emails, text messages, users' Internet use histories and other information, which was retrievable from unsecured home and business networks. According to a 2012 report from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the Street View vehicles had collected more than 200GB of such payload data.

Google officials maintained that the data on the WiFi networks was being used to help Google create better location-based services, after initially denying that payload data had been collected. They later admitted that the Street View cars had collected such personal information and laid the blame at the feet of a rogue engineer who they said put that capability into the software on his own accord.

German officials were the first to uncover Google's collection of such data from WiFi routers in Germany back in 2010. Soon after, Google said it had collected similar information through Street View in other nations around the world.


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