The last time Silverback Marketing reported about any possible FTC investigations into Google was Tuesday, December 20, 2012. Google has encountered numerous collisions of that nature with the Federal Trade Commission over the years, so a news report regarding a new instance is never a complete surprise. The latest investigation and possible fine are very significant in this case.
A Stanford researcher by the name of Jonathan Mayer discovered a tool Google had been utilizing this past February that clearly represents a FTC violation. The method Google was using was ingenious, basically hiding a web form within online ads on the Safari browser. The tool allowed Google to bypass the privacy settings Safari had in place and install tracking cookies as a result. If a user clicked the +1 button on an ad Safari was tricked into believing that the user had submitted a web form. Therefore, Safari would in turn allow Google to install tracking cookies on that particular user’s device. Ouch …
A Bloomberg report from Friday, May 4 indicates that Google and the FTC are currently negotiating in terms of what the penalties may be for this case. If it is true that Google knowingly deceived Safari in order to use Safari as an avenue to install tracking cookies, this would be an extreme violation of the privacy rights of online users. This fine could be more than 10 million dollars and would represent the first time the FTC has fined an agency over internet privacy.
Google signed a decree with the FTC in 2011 that would remain in effect for twenty years. The settlement required Google to be diligent in regards to its practices surrounding the privacy of user data and submit to regular privacy audits. This latest case against Google could be particularly damaging if the Safari breach is true since that would a breach of contract just one year later. This will be a topic Silverback Marketing will continue to follow for our readers.