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Judge approves FTC's $22.5M fine of Google

Associated Press Modified: November 16, 2012 at 7:01 pm •  Published: November 16, 2012
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The FTC considers the fine to be a milestone because it's the largest the agency has ever levied for a civil violation.

Consumer Watchdog also contended the settlement lacked teeth because it allowed Google to deny any liability for its conduct. That echoed a concern of FTC Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch, who voted against the Google settlement. Leibowitz and three other FTC commissioners voted for the settlement anyway because they believe it will deter similar breaches in the future.

Google insists it didn't intentionally bypass Safari's default settings.

Finally, Consumer Watchdog blasted the settlement for allowing Google to retain the data that it got from Safari users without authorization.

Illston brushed off the objections about the magnitude of the fine and Google's denial of liability. During Friday's court hearing, she probed deeper into Google's retention of the Safari browser data, raising the possibility that she might require revisions to that portion of the settlement.

In her final ruling, Illston accepted the FTC's assertion that the settlement "sufficiently protects consumers from ongoing harm without exposing them to additional risks." She cited legal precedent compelling her to "pay deference" the government agency that negotiated and submitted a proposed settlement such as the Safari case. The FTC and Google spent more than two months working out the details of the settlement, Illston noted in her ruling.

Analyzing Web surfing data helps Google gain a better understanding of people's preferences so it can customize online ads to appeal to different tastes.

But Google lawyer David Kramer told Illston that the data gathered from Safari browsers during the period covered by the settlement would be too stale to be of practical use to the company's advertising network. He also maintained that much of the data transmitted to Google would have been sent even without the unauthorized insertion of additional computer coding.