Google has reached a $17m settlement agreement with 10 US states over its unauthorised placement of cookies on computers using Apple Safari web browsers from 2011 to 2012.
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Investigations revealed that through its DoubleClick advertising platform, Google had set third-party cookies that enabled it to gather information about consumers.
Apple’s Safari web browser is set by default to block third-party cookies, but from 1 June 2011 to 15 February 2012, Google altered its DoubleClick coding to circumvent those default privacy settings.
In February 2012, Google admitted bypassing privacy settings of Apple's Safari web browser to track users' browsing behaviour and halted the practice.
Six months later, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined Google $22.5m for monitoring Apple Safari browser users even though they had a "do not track" privacy setting selected.
DoubleClick cookies result in double fine for Google
In the latest case brought by US attorney general A.G Schneiderman, 10 US states argued that Google’s circumvention of Safari's default privacy settings violated consumer protection and computer privacy laws.
The states also claimed that Google failed to inform Safari users that it was circumventing their privacy settings.
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“By tracking millions of people without their knowledge, Google violated not only their privacy, but also their trust," said Schneiderman.
"We must give consumers the reassurance that they can browse the internet safely and securely,” he said.
In addition to the fine, Google has agreed to:
• Not deploy the type of code used in this case to override a browser’s cookie blocking settings without the consumer’s consent, unless it is necessary to do so in order to detect, prevent or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues.
• Not misrepresent or omit material information to consumers about how they can use any particular Google product, service, or tool to directly manage how Google serves advertisements to their browsers.
• Improve the information it gives consumers regarding cookies, their purpose, and how the cookies are managed by consumers using Google’s products or services and tools.
• Maintain systems designed to ensure the expiration of the third-party cookies set on Safari web browsers while their default settings had been circumvented.