U.S. Regulators Probe Google's Safari Breach

By Shawn Hebert March 19, 2012

U.S. Government officials have launched an investigation into Google for bypassing the privacy settings of users of the popular Safari Web browser by Apple.

The investigation stems from a February 17, 2012 report published by Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer, and subsequently reported on by the Wall Street Journal. The author of the report found that Google, along with several other companies, had been using code to override Safari Web browser's default privacy settings in order to monitor its users across Apple devices, including the iOS platform.

In a phone interview with TalkingPointsMemo, Mayer stated that the Federal Trade Commission has a “slam dunk” case against Google.

“The facts in this care are unusually clear cut,” said Mayer. “It's fairly clear Google made misrepresentation and under the consent order established from the Google Buzz debacle, it was required that they not make misrepresentations going forward. It's fair to say they weren't in compliance.”

Last year, the FTC charged Google with deceptive practices related to its failed networking service, Google Buzz. Under the Buzz settlement, of which Google did not admit to any legal wrongdoing, the company promised not to misrepresent its privacy policies and agreed to 20 years of independent privacy audits.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told the source that while he agrees it's a clear case of deception, the FTC may have a difficult time proving that the actions of Google were intentional.

“Google can credibly argue, 'We meant to do something else which was borderline, but probably not deceptive,'” he said. “I think over the past year or two, there has been an effect on Google's image. It definitely has to concern them.”

An FTC spokesperson noted the agency will not comment on the investigation. Google has since stopped the practice as of last month and the company has stated that they will cooperate with privacy regulators.

Edited by Braden Becker

TechZone360 Contributing Writer

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