Google has been fined £14.4 million ($22.5 million) by the US Federal Trade Commission after monitoring web surfers using Apple’s Safari browser who had a “do not track” privacy setting selected.The penalty is for lying about what it was doing and not for the methods it used to bypass Safari’s tracker cookie settings- misusing cookies so that a user’s web activity can be monitored.
The government agency launched its inquiry after a Stanford University researcher noticed the issue while studying targeted advertising.
He revealed that the search engine was exploiting a loophole that let its cookies be installed via adverts on popular websites, even if users’ browsers’ preferences had been set to reject them.
This allowed the firm to track people’s web browsing- even if they had not given it permission to do so.
Apple’s browser automatically rejects tracking cookies by default. But Google deliberately got around this block by adding code to some of its adverts to make Safari think that the user had made an exception for its cookie if they interacted with the ad.
At the same time as using the exploit the search engine said on its help centre that Safari users did not need to take extra steps to prevent their online activities from being logged.
Nick Pickles, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch in Google hit by record fine wrote that it was right that Google should be penalised.
“It’s an essential part of a properly functioning market that consumers are in control of their personal information and are able to take steps to protect their privacy,” he said.
“The size of the fine in this case should deter any company from seeking to exploit underhand means of tracking consumers. It is essential that anyone who seeks to over-ride consumer choices about sharing their data is held to account.”