Privacy Case Settlement To Cost Google $17 Million (NASDAQ:GOOG)

googleTo settle a wide-reaching privacy case over tracking consumers online without their knowledge, Google has agreed to pay $17 million to 37 states and the District of Columbia. While the fine levied is only a fraction of the billions of dollars that Google earns in advertising revenue each year, it may only be the tip of the iceberg for the company. The company is facing numerous government investigations, lawsuits and punishments around the world related to privacy matters.

In this case, Google has been accused of bypassing the privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser to use cookies to track users and show them advertisements. The incidents allegedly occurred in 2011 and 2012. After the practice was publicly reported, Google reportedly discontinued circumventing the settings and stopped tracking Safari users and showing them personalized ads.

In addition, there is the case involving a social networking tool called Buzz and another regarding illegal data collection by Street View vehicles. The company is also facing allegations of wiretapping to show personalized ads in Gmail. In a statement, Eric T. Schneiderman, attorney general of New York, said, “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.”

According to the agreement, Google is also prohibited from using software code that overrides a browser’s cookie-blocking settings, omitting or misrepresenting information to consumers about how they use Google products or control the ads they see. The company must also maintain a web page that explains what cookies are and how to control them for a period of no less than five years and must ensure that the cookies tied to Safari browsers expire.

Google released a statement that said: “We work hard to get privacy right at Google and have taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple’s browsers. We’re pleased to have worked with the state attorneys general to reach this agreement.”

The Electronic Privacy Information Center is a privacy research nonprofit that is one of the entities that has filed complaints against Google. Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said, “We look at this and say it’s a good development for online privacy when the state attorneys general are able to enforce their laws and get Google to change their practices.”