Posted in Legal Troubles, War on Privacy

FTC hits Google with record $22.5 million fine

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced today that the Monster of Mountain View has agreed to pay a fine for violating the terms of its earlier privacy accord with the agency from two years ago. Google is not admitting to any wrongdoing:

The Federal Trade Commission fined Google $22.5 million on Thursday to settle charges that it had bypassed privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser to be able to track users of the browser and show them advertisements, and violated an earlier privacy settlement with the agency.

The fine is the largest civil penalty ever levied by the commission, which has been cracking down on tech companies for privacy violations and is also investigating Google for antitrust violations.

Consumer Watchdog criticized the settlement agreement, calling on the FTC to hold Google accountable for its war on privacy.

“While the $22.5 million penalty levied against Google is a record for the FTC, it is woefully insufficient considering that Google refused to admit any liability or wrongdoing,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director.  “The Commission has allowed Google to buy its way out of trouble for an amount that probably is less than the company spends on lunches for its employees and with no admission it did anything wrong.”

One of the Commission’s five members agreed. In a statement explaining why he refused to sign off on the settlement, Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch said the FTC should have demanded – and gotten – more.

[T]his is not the first time the Commission has charged Google with engaging in deceptive conduct. This is Google’s second bite at the apple. The Commission accuses it of violating the Google Buzz consent order by “misrepresent[ing] the extent to which users may exercise control over the collection or use of covered information” and accordingly, seeks civil penalties for those violations. In other words, the Commission charges Google with contempt.

This scenario – violation of a consent order – makes the Commission’s acceptance of Google’s denial of liability all the more inexplicable.

We agree. A $22.5 million fine is nothing to Google. It is hardly going to dissuade the Monster of Mountain View from continuing to wage war on users’ privacy. The FTC should have at least gotten an admission of wrongdoing out of this settlement. They folded too easily.