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In February, Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer discovered that Google had bypassed a key Safari browser privacy setting in order to install tracking cookies. By hiding a “web form” within an online ad, Google circumvented Safari’s default settings and violated users’ right to privacy. If the Safari user clicked the +1 button in the ad, Google tricked Safari into believing a web form had been submitted and as a result Safari allowed Google to install a tracking cookie on the device.
Today, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reportedly ready to allege that Google engaged in deceptive practices and installed tracking cookies in an unacceptable manner. Google is reportedly negotiating with the FTC regarding the size of the fine it will be forced to pay for its misconduct. Although the exact amount of the fine has not yet been released, the FTC is able to fine Google $16,000 a day per violation and Bloomberg has reported that the fine is likely to be in excess of $10 million.
John M. Simpson, the director at the Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project, expressed support for the FTC taking strong action against Google:
“Google hacked past a key privacy setting on iPhones and iPads and other devices using Apple’s Safari browser, placed tracking cookies on them and then lied, saying the settings were still effective. I am delighted the FTC appears ready to take strong action against an obvious violation of Google’s promises to honor users’ privacy in its ‘Buzz’ Consent Decree with the Commission.”
If the FTC forces Google to pay a multimillion dollar fine for “unfair and deceptive” business practices, it could signal that the FTC is finally serious about protecting users’ privacy.