In early 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google was exploiting little-known functionality within Apple’s Safari browser which allowed the search engine to install cookies even with Safari’s privacy settings set to disallow them. Google was quick to respond to the accusations with a company spokesman issuing the following statement to WSJ in response to their article:
“The Journal mischaracterizes what happened and why. We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. It’s important to stress that these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.”
Despite Google’s claim, however, the Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation in order to determine what, if any, privacy and security policies had been violated in the situation. On Friday, US District Judge Susan Illston ruled that Google will have to pay a $22.5 million fine assessed by the FTC after their investigation concluded that the search engine had violated user privacy on Safari-enabled devices.
Although the fine is the largest ever issued by the FTC, Google is likely to be minimally affected by the loss. In fact, the Associated Press has reported that Google generates that same amount in income every four hours. While Google may not be monetarily impacted by the fine, the company will now have to change how it collects data from opt-out users going forward.
Now, one of Google’s greatest challenges will be developing cookies that allow ads to be targeted without sacrificing user privacy or consider utilizing other ad delivery techniques. Google’s financial future is definitely not in jeopardy due to the fine, but major re-strategizing is essential if the company intends to avoid more major future fines.