Google Sued Over Safari Privacy Snafu

Computer users in Missouri and Illinois have sued Google over the search giant's placement of online ad cookies in Apple's Safari Web browser. The move circumvented Apple's privacy protection for Safari.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has been sued by computer users who claimed their privacy rights were violated when the search giant sidestepped control settings intended to protect users of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Safari Web browser from being tracked online.

Attorneys for Safari user Matthew Soble said in a complaint filed in Delaware federal court that "Google's willful and knowing actions violated" federal wiretapping laws and related citizen privacy statutes, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

Soble wants class-action status for his lawsuit, inviting other Safari users who believe Google infringed upon their privacy rights. Meanwhile, Brian Martorana of Missouri also sued Google for violating the Wiretap Act and asked for damages on behalf of 62 million users, according to PaidContent.

Google declined to comment on the lawsuits.

Google and a few other advertising companies have secretly tracked the Web-surfing habits of millions of people using the Safari browser on Apple's Mac computers, iPhones and iPad tablets, according to Stanford University graduate student Jonathan Mayer.

Safari is designed to prevent such monitoring to preserve user privacy, but Google and others tricked the browser into allowing the tracking via advertising cookies.

Google, which called the tracking inadvertent and denied collecting personal information on users, said it merely leveraged existing Safari functionality to enable the +1 button to work for signed-in Google+ users on Safari.

The move, viewed both as an infringement of user privacy and continuing brinksmanship with rival Apple, drew attention from Congress, which urged the Federal Trade Commission to look into the matter.

Congressmen Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Cliff Sterns (R-Fla.) have asked the FTC if this browser issue violates Google's consent agreement not to misrepresent how and why it collects user information.

The consent agreement stemmed from Google's infringement of user privacy in its now-defunct Buzz social conversation service. Google could incur fines of $16,000 per violation per day if it is found to have violated the consent order.

"As members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, we are interested in any actions the FTC has taken or plans to take to investigate whether Google has violated the terms of its consent agreement," wrote Reps. Markey, Barton and Stearns to the FTC.

The FTC has yet to weigh in on the matter.