Google has agreed to pay $22.5 million, a record penalty from the Federal Trade Commission for violating previous promises but a pittance for the multibillion-dollar search behemoth, for fibbing to users of Apple's Safari browser about its online-tracking practices.
But the deal allowed Google - whose informal motto is "Don't be evil" - to deny that it did anything wrong, which was enough to cause one FTC commissioner, J. Thomas Rosch, to dissent.
What did Google do to stir the FTC's (mild) anger? The agency's announcement explains:
The FTC's complaint says: "Google represented to Safari users that, if they did not change the default setting, Google would not place DoubleClick Advertising Cookies on a user’s browser, collect interest category information from or about the user, or serve targeted advertisements to the user. ... Despite its representations to Safari users, Google overrode the Safari default browser setting and placed the DoubleClick Advertising Cookie on Safari browsers."
The FTC may be doing what it can to solve problems and avoid costly litigation, but it's mostly nibbling around the edges of practices that make a mockery of consumers' privacy expectations. Only the most concerned Web users pay attention to these privacy settings, and Google's violations undermined even their efforts.
That $22.5 million penalty? The complaint says it equals less than one-thousandth of Google's $36.5 billion take last year from advertising fees - 96 percent of its total revenue.
What does Google say? According to CNET: