Judge approves FTC's $22.5M fine of Google for alleged privacy breach
SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge has approved a $22.5 million fine to penalize Google for an alleged privacy breach, rejecting a consumer rights group's plea for tougher punishment.
The blessing from U.S. District Judge Susan Illston was given late Friday. She made her ruling a few hours after a hearing in San Francisco on final arguments about a fine that's the cornerstone of a settlement reached three months ago between the Federal Trade Commission and Google Inc.
The rebuke revolves around allegations that Google duped millions of web surfers using the Safari browser into believing their online activities could not be tracked by the company as long as they didn't change the browser's privacy settings.
That assurance was posted on Google's website this year, even as the Internet search leader was inserting computer coding that bypassed Safari's automatic settings and enabled the company to peer into the online lives of the browser's users.
The FTC concluded that the contradiction between Google's stealth tracking and its privacy assurances to Safari users violated a vow the company made in another settlement with the agency last year. Google had promised not to mislead people about its privacy practices.
While the FTC hailed its actions as proof of its resolve to protect the public interest, a consumer rights group attacked the settlement as an example of ineffectual regulation.
The group, Consumer Watchdog, is trying to bring more attention to the issue as the FTC wraps up a separate investigation into complaints that Google has been stifling competition and raising online ad prices by highlighting its own services in its influential search engine.
Illston, though, found that the fine and other facets of the settlement were all “fair, adequate and reasonable.”
“We're glad the court agreed there was no merit to this challenge,” Google said in a statement.
Consumer Watchdog attorney Gary Reback said he hopes to pressure the FTC to take Google to court in the antitrust investigation, instead of negotiating consent decrees and other types of settlements, as it did in the Safari privacy flap.
A consent decree “is not a good way to police Google,” Reback said after Friday's court hearing.
Reback also is representing some of the Internet companies that have filed complaints against Google in the antitrust case.
FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz has said he expects regulators to decide whether to sue, settle or simply close the antitrust investigation by the end of this year.
In the Safari case, Consumer Watchdog argued that the fine amounts to loose change for a company like Google, which generates about $22.5 million in revenue every four hours. In legal briefs, Reback asserted that Google should be fined at least $3 billion because of the number of people potentially affected.
The agency said the impact of Google's breach was relatively small, estimating the company picked up about $4 million in revenue from the intrusion.
The FTC considers the fine to be a milestone because it's the largest the agency has ever levied for a civil violation.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Starkey: Burnett writing incredible final chapter
- 5 juveniles injured in Washington County crash
- Alvarez’s walk-off single lifts Pirates over Padres
- Opening arguments set in Rostraver home invasion case
- BURIED HISTORY
- EU awaits Greek plan for bailout
- Torn thumb ligament puts Pirates’ Harrison on 15-day disabled list
- Connellsville kicks off farmers market
- Crazy Mocha owner likes comfort, says shrewd decisions foster growth
- Pirates get journeyman Ishikawa off waivers; outfielder Marte injured
- Pair charged with prostitution-related offenses in South Greensburg