Google Agrees To $17 Million Settlement In Government Privacy Suit
November 18, 2013

Google Settles With Government In Privacy Suit

Enid Burns for – Your Universe Online

Google has reached a settlement agreement in a case brought by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for "unauthorized placement of cookies on computers using Apple Safari Web browsers during 2011 and 2012." The multistate settlement agreement prevents Google from facing future violations of consumer privacy; a statement from the New York Attorney General's office details the settlement.

The terms of the $17 million settlement includes payments to multiple states. From the funds, $899,580 goes to New York State.

"Consumers should be able to know whether there are other eyes surfing the web with them. By tracking millions of people without their knowledge, Google violated not only their privacy, but also their trust," Attorney General Schneiderman said. "We must give consumers the reassurance that they can browse the internet safely and securely. My office will continue to protect New Yorkers from any attempts to deliberately expose their personal data."

Google has faced settlements with the FTC for the same issue. In November of last year, the US Federal Trade Commission and Google reached an agreement where Google paid a $22.5 million fine for the breach after Safari users sued, claiming a violation of privacy rights.

Cookies are placed in web browsers to track user activity by using anonymous means. Data is used to sell advertising, which generates revenues for Google. Safari blocks such cookies, often referred to as third-part cookies, from being placed without explicit consent from the user. Other browsers are following suit. Firefox said it would selectively block cookies.

While the settlement blocks other states from pressing charges against Google, the search giant has agreed to a number of terms as part of the settlement:

  • Not to 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 to 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 expiration of the third-party cookies set on Safari Web browsers while their default settings had been circumvented.

New York acted as the prosecution in the multistate agreement. Ten states involved in the executive committee that oversaw the case include Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey, Texas, Vermont and Washington. The multistate agreement also included the Offices of the Attorney General of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, District of Columbia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Web browsers are in search of an alternative to cookies. Microsoft is developing other methods to track consumers and the solution will have the added benefit of following consumers across multiple devices such as computers, smartphones and tablets. One solution involves device fingerprinting, which will also have the ability to track users across devices.