Google may be facing a fine for its practice of bypassing Safari's default settings to place tracking cookies on people's computers or phones. The US Federal Trade Commission has been investigating the matter and the investigation isn't going in Google's favor, it seems.
official yet, but the fine may add up to more than $10 million, EUR7.61 million. The fine would be the first the agency has issued for web privacy issues.
Google was busted placing browser cookies in Safari even when the privacy options explicitly forbidding "third-party" cookies, i.e. cookies originating from other domains than the one the user is visiting.
Essentially, all ad networks place these tracking cookies and they're all "third-party" cookies in this respect. Most browsers accept these cookies by default, but Safari doesn't, the default setting only accepts "first-party" cookies.
Users rarely change their default settings, which is why Apple chose to have this behavior by default, implicitly protecting users' privacy. Google and others argued that since users didn't set these options by themselves, it wasn't really circumventing the users' privacy settings.
Google tricked Safari into saving these ad cookies using a rather simple workaround, employed by other advertisers as well.
The matter is made worse by the fact that Google had a settlement with the FTC, after the Buzz privacy fiasco, through which it pledged to follow its own privacy policies and pre-announce any changes to those policies. Google is forbidden from lying about how it handles user data, via this settlement.
The company also agreed to privacy reviews for 20 years. It seems that the FTC believes Google violated that settlement via its actions and this is why it's looking at a substantial fine.
$10 million is going to sting more than the $25,000, EUR19,000 fine Google recently got for its Street View mishap, but it's still small compared to the $500 million, EUR380 million it paid as a settlement for illegal drug ads.