The issue at hand arose when it was uncovered that Google was running cookies — small programs that transmit information about a user’s activities — on computers that were running Safari. Though Safari, Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) primary Web browser, is designed to block cookies, Google used a series of coding techniques to overcome the blocks, thereby tracking Safari users and gathering information about their Internet habits, according to the U.K.-based newspaper.
This is strictly illegal, since Safari has the right to block cookies if it so desires without being manipulated into providing user information to Google. The search engine giant claimed that its intent was simply to allow users to activate the cookies themselves, giving them the option to turn cookies on and off, rather than forcing them to have then on the entire time while using Safari. There is a big difference between the two results, not only from a legal perspective but from the point of view of Safari users, as well.
The company eventually agreed to settle with representatives of some 37 U.S. states, coming to a total payment of $17 million. This is in addition to a payment made to the federal government of more than $22 million that the company previously handed over, concerning the same issue.
The agreement could have important privacy implications, because the settlement was still reached despite Google not having taken down personal information about the users that it was monitoring. Just because such information was not collected does not mean that the government is not willing to come after violators of the law, RT reports.
Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, discussed the matter in announcing the settlement, saying, “Consumers should be able to know whether there are other eyes surfing the web with them. By tracking millions of people without their knowledge, Google violated not only their privacy, but also their trust.”
Still, the punishment cannot be regarded as too severe from Google’s point of view. Though $17 million may be a fortune to the average American, it only takes the company a few hours to earn that sum on the average day.
The good news is that the cookies have since been removed from Safari, and Google has issued an official apology as well as a statement saying that it is actively ensuring that other such monitoring efforts are done within the confines of the law.
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