FutureFive NZ - Google pays record privacy penalty

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Google pays record privacy penalty

Google has agreed to pay a record US$22.5m fine after accusations of breaking privacy laws.

The internet search giant allegedly tracked millions of web users through Apple’s Safari browser, with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) imposing its largest penalty for such an offence.

Despite agreeing to the payment, Google has yet to admit any wrongdoings and insists the fine relates to their company misrepresenting the facts, not over data collection.

After monitoring users who had a ‘do not track’ privacy setting selected, Google claimed ‘no personal information’ was collected and that the action had been inadvertent.

In October 2011 the company signed a 20-year deal confirming they would be open and transparent with users about its privacy practices, but less than a year into the agreement breached the contract conditions.

"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 to comply in the first place," says Jon Leibowitz, FTC Chairman.

Google’s alleged data collecting was brought to federal attention after a Stanford University researcher revealed the company was exploiting a loophole in the system.

Allowing its cookies to be installed via adverts, the researcher believed Google could then track people’s web-use habits without their permission.

"We set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users," says Google.

"The FTC is focused on a 2009 help centre page published more than two years before our consent decree, and a year before Apple changed its cookie-handling policy.

"We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple's browsers."

The fine surpasses a US$19m penalty issued to a telemarketing company for duping customers into believing they were donating to charities.

What do you think? Do large internet companies think they are above the law? Tell us your thoughts below.

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