The USD22.5 million penalty for Google was approved on Friday by U.S. District Judge Susan Illston. The judge’s ruling comes after a consumer advocacy group asked for bigger penalties against the Internet giant.
This fine is the biggest the Federal Trade Commission has ruled against a company for privacy breaches. Three months ago Google and the FTC reached a settlement for the lawsuit agreeing to this fine. Attorneys from Google and the FTC pleaded their case in front of judge Illston, and she decided to approve the initial fine, thus ruling against a tougher punishment.
“We were disappointed, but think we made important points that will have an impact on how similar cases are dealt with in the future,” said John Simpson, director of the Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project.
Google was charged with having bypassed privacy settings of Internet browser Safari – which blocks cookies from ad networks. By tracking users’ online activity, Google managed to offer targeted ads, but that breached Apple’s privacy settings and a previous settlement Google reached with the commission.
“The social contract has to be that if you’re going to hold on to people’s most private data, you have to do a better job of honoring your privacy commitments,” explained three months ago David C. Vladeck, the director of the commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “And if there’s a message the commission is trying to send today, it’s that.”
It is good news for Google that this fine was approved and not raised any further, as the Internet giant already has money issues – let’s not forget recent Motorola staff cuts and the financial results. But in the online environment it is also a good thing to reinforce the idea that privacy settings and policies must be observed by companies, regardless of their size.