Google isn’t exactly new to being accused of privacy issues or being ruled against in such cases. It’s to be expected for a company whose activities include photographing the cities and streets so people can take virtual tours of it (Street View) or monitoring search activity to make their results more intuitive.
But many say this latest ruling against them by the FTC for privacy violation indicates a sinister change in their image to the public.
The Federal Trade Commission began investigating Google after news of what was termed ‘Cookiegate’ broke out earlier this year.
Google had allegedly been storing tracking cookies on Apple devices’ mobile version of their browser, Safari. This was despite Apple’s strict ‘No third party cookies’ default setting on the browser.
The FTC took particular exception to this violation due it’s contravening of the Google Buzz privacy settlement that came about a few year ago as a results of a misrepresentation Google made of their privacy practices to Gmail clients. It has allowed the FTC to fast track a lot of the penalties against Google.
The resulting fine for Google was $ 22.5 million. The fine is the sum of multiple $16,000 fines for each instance of privacy invasion. The fine was also repeated for every day that this violation continued.
For a company worth an estimated $190 billion, a penalty that size doesn’t really seem like it would make a difference. There a negatives though. Just the bad publicity aside, 99% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising and a lot of its value in this industry lies in their ability to target consumers based on browsing behaviour, made possible by cookies.
If advertisers begin to think that these analytics are under threat, it could drastically affect their prime real revenue stream.
In Google’s Defence
Google has said that the focus of the case was on a 2009 help centre page and that they had since taken measures to remove the advertising cookies.
If you use Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome (obviously) or a range of other less popular browsers, chances are Google has been tracking your search activity from quite some time. It’s been subject to some controversy (It has a disapproval rating of 74%) but it comes part and parcel of their search engine. They didn’t do anything they hadn’t been doing before.
Google also argued that Apple take paternal control over users of their device in terms of third party software. And that they were just obeying the privacy setting of the device owner’s Google account.