Google Safari Cookie Settlement Upheld
November 18, 2012

FTC Settlement With Google Over Safari Cookies Upheld By District Court

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The fine levied against Google by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as part of a privacy-related investigation was upheld by a federal judge on Friday.

According to Megan Geuss of Ars Technica, the Mountain View, California-based company was accused of implanting cookies on Safari web browsers without their user's knowledge or consent, and following an FTC probe, the two parties settled on a $22.5 million fine for the breach.

It was the largest settlement of its kind levied by the Commission to date, Geuss said. However, it wasn't enough for the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group, which had been seeking a $3 billion fine, an admission of guilt, and a court order demanding Google to destroy all of the data collected by the improperly placed cookies, she added.

That request was denied by US District Judge Susan Illston of the District Court for Northern California, who ruled on Friday that the $22.5 million penalty was "fair, adequate and reasonable," Associated Press Technology Writer Michael Liedtke said. Illston's decision came just hours after hearing arguments from attorneys from the advocacy group, Google and the FTC.

"Consumer Watchdog“¦ contended the settlement lacked teeth because it allowed Google to deny any liability for its conduct," Liedtke said. "That echoed a concern of FTC Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch, who voted against the Google settlement. [FTC Chairman Jon] Leibowitz and three other FTC commissioners voted for the settlement anyway because they believe it will deter similar breaches in the future."

The judge did ask FTC attorneys to address another one of the group's primary issues with the settlement, inquiring as to why Google was permitted to keep the data it had improperly collected. In response, the Commission's counsel stated that the information was out of date and as such was of "negative value," Guess reported. In addition, Google lawyers told the court that the company has a policy of making IP addresses anonymous after nine months, rendering the majority of the information collected by the cookies useless.

Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project Director John Simpson told Jessica Guynn of the Los Angeles Times the organization was "disappointed" by the verdict, but added that he believed the group "made important points that will have an impact on how similar cases are dealt with in the future." Google, on the other hand, released a statement stating that they were "glad the court agreed there was no merit to this challenge," the Associated Press (AP) reported.