Google On The Hook For A Record $22.5 Million In Safari Privacy Case

Better start digging around in those couch cushions, Google. The company has agreed to settle with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that it fudged privacy settings of Apple’s Safari Internet browser when it told users it wouldn’t place cookies or serve targeted ads. It’s going to cost Google a pretty penny to pay the civil penalty — a record $22.5 million.

A press release from the FTC says Google was in violation of an earlier privacy settlement it had going with the commission. This is the largest FTC penalty ever for violating one of its orders. Besides forking over all that dough, Google will be required to disable all the tracking cookies it said it wasn’t going to place on consumers’ computers.

“The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order,” said Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC. “No matter how big or small, all companies must abide by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promises to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place.”

The FTC said that for many months in 2011 and 2012, Google placed a particular advertising tracking cookie on Safari users’ computers who were visiting sites within Google’s DoubleClick advertising network. That way, Google could serve ads based on what users were surfing for. But the funny thing was that Google had already told users they’d be automatically opted out of that tracking because it was supposed to be a default setting in Macs, iPhones and iPads using Safari. Nope!

According to the FTC’s complaint, Google went around all this by putting a temporary cookie from DoubleClick’s domain in the browser, circumventing the default setting. That first little cookie then opened the floodgate for any other DoubleClick cookies, including that pesky advertising tracking cookie Google had said would be blocked from Safari.

The earlier privacy settlement that the FTC said Google crossed was from October 2011, which told Google it couldn’t misrepresent how much control users have over how their information is collected.

We’re sure Google’s couch is pretty darn huge, with plenty of change to scrounge up that $22.5 million.


Edit Your Comment

  1. TuxthePenguin says:

    $22.5 million… in 2011 they had profits of $9.7 billion. $22 million is less than almost any line item on their financials in 2011

  2. TakingItSeriously is a Technopile says:

    And another pittance fine against a company that probably made multiple times the fines amount in money from the infraction.

    • TakingItSeriously is a Technopile says:

      “Don’t be evil”

      Google taking irony all the way to the bank.

      • nicless says:

        It’s not even irony, it’s just lying.

        • TakingItSeriously is a Technopile says:


          • sagodjur1 says:

            I’m still waiting for the horror stories reported by legitimate news agencies about how these so-called privacy issues with Google actually have any real negative effects on users. The definition of “evil” is getting watered down if this is what counts for evil.

            • nicless says:

              If you care so little about privacy, feel free to post every single detail of your life here for us. Including credit card numbers and your social security number if you’re an American.

              Companies using your data EXACTLY how they said they wouldn’t is evil.

              • sagodjur1 says:

                Where did I say I cared little about privacy? Google doesn’t have any information from me that I didn’t willingly provide it.

                But more to the point, Google doesn’t “use” my data in any malicious ways. I opt out of their ads and public profiles where possible and I use browser plugins to block tracking and ads you can’t opt out of. I also use better, more secure browsers than Safari.

                Rape, murder, torture, and any number of other heinous acts are evil. Privacy violations that never actually affect you are first world problems equivalent to the Starbucks barista putting 2% milk in your latte instead of nonfat milk.

  3. MutantMonkey says:

    Some quick math indicates that is covered in less than a day’s worth of profits. Ouch.

  4. cactus jack says:

    Probably a stupid question, but where does this money go? I keep seeing multi-million dollar fines here and there but I have no idea where this money goes or goes towards.

    • TuxthePenguin says:

      I’m sure politicians have found a way to get their grubby fingers into that pot too… in case you’re worried.

  5. Torchwood says:

    In the contest of the amount of interest paid to service the US National Debt….. it’s tiny.

  6. Blueskylaw says:

    Google probably spent more than $22.5 million on custom weave toilet paper for that year.

  7. SirWired says:

    The FTC is a toothless, worthless, agency when regarding any matter other than anti-trust. Their fines are silly jokes. Yeah, I’m sure Google’s REAL chastened after having to pay out that rounding error of a fine there.

    C’mon… Google violates an earlier order, and $22.5M is the best you can come up with?

  8. Kingsley says:

    Google, why do you have to cheat?

    • NorthAlabama says:


      and a better question – consumers, why do you continue to use google?

      • RvLeshrac says:

        Part of the issue is that it isn’t even clear that this was the issue it was claimed to be.

        Google does plenty of shady shit, but this and the gathering of PUBLIC wireless packets are not terribly interesting.

  9. Starrion says:

    22.5 million?

    One of the googlers will have to go down to where they are building an addition entirely out of bricks of $20 bills and scoop up a wheelbarrow full. They are simply awash in money. 22 million wouldn’t even dent the money they spend on free food in their headquarters.

  10. streetmonster says:

    Penalties are useless to consumers. The money goes into government or corporate coffers. The users who were screwed over never see a dime.

  11. bdgbill says:

    Nice of you to use my photo Consumerist (I did place it in the Consumerist Flikr group) but don’t you usually add an atribution?

  12. 180CS says:

    Honestly, since fines and penalties have a tendency to scale with companies and the number of people effected, I think the only news here is how little of a penalty this is.

    Proportionally speaking, the fine I pay if I return a DVD one day late is multiple times more significant than what google is being slapped with.