Google’s ad network has landed them in some hot water with the FTC. They used cookies to gather information on users of Apple’s Safari Web browser in order to target ads. Since there was no way for users to opt out of having this information gathered, the FTC has ordered them to pay a $22.5 million fine.
Having past searches collected for targeted ads is nothing new to consumers, but the real issue is that Google intentionally misrepresented itself to Safari users. Google misled users of Safari, telling them that since the browser’s default settings block third-party cookies, they did not need to opt out, as long as they did not change their default settings.
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The FTC says that this is the largest penalty that has ever been assessed. Jon Leibowitz, the chairman of the FTC stated, “The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order. No matter how big or small, all companies must abide by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promises to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost them to comply in the first place.”
Google will not only have to pay the fine, they will also be required to disable all of the tracking cookies that it “has said it would not place on consumers’ computers.”
Although the FTC is hard at work keeping consumers’ private information private, it is important for consumers to educate themselves about how their activities on the Internet are being used.
With the announcement that Facebook will be launching off-site ads using information collected on Facebook, it is more important than ever. Legislation like “Do Not Track” is in the works, but in the meantime, the only way to stay protected (although it is no guarantee of protection) is to be certain of exactly what Internet users are unwittingly opting into and monitoring personal information that through social networking sites.
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