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Google to pay FTC $22.5 million fine for misrepresenting privacy protections

Google Inc. [corporate website] on Thursday agreed to pay a record fine [press release] of $22.5 million to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] after being charged with misrepresenting Apple Inc.'s Safari [corporate website] internet browser. Specifically, the FTC claimed [materials] that the company allowed the browser to track users' search histories and target ads to those users in violation of a previous privacy settlement between Google and the FTC. The settlement also requires Google to disable the tracking "cookies" that it originally said would not be placed on buyers' computers. In its complaint, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website], the FTC asserted that Google told users that Safari would block third-party cookies by default so long as users did not alter their browser settings. According to the FTC, however, Google nevertheless placed a temporary cookie in the browser that led to all others, including the advertising tracking cookie that allowed it to serve online ads based on the a user's recorded web-browsing activities. While FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz declared that "all companies must ... keep their privacy promises to consumers" or "end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place," Google has yet to issue a statement on the settlement.

Google, Inc. has faced frequent legal challenges regarding the privacy of internet users. In February, a federal judge dismissed [JURIST report] a suit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) [advocacy website], a consumer privacy group, that asked the FTC to block Google's proposed privacy changes [text] that would allow a user's information to be shared among several Google products, including YouTube, Gmail, and Google Maps. Also in February, members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus [official website] sent a letter [JURIST report] to the FTC asking it to look into Google's possible unlawful privacy practices related to bypassing Safari settings to track users browser histories without their consent. The settlement allegedly violated by Google in this case was arranged in October 2011, and barred Google from misrepresenting the extent to which consumers can exercise control over the collection of their information. Several months prior, in March, the FTC announced [JURIST report] a similar settlement regarding Google's breach of consumer privacy rights by misleading users with Google Buzz, the company's then-social networking site. Previous concerns were raised in April 2007 when several internet privacy groups asked [JURIST report] the FTC to investigate the merger between Google and the advertising provider DoubleClick [corporate website]. "Deceptive" and "unfair" advertising claims were also brought against Google [JURIST report] by consumer groups in November 2006.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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