Nine months on from the Wall Street Journal spotting a massive Google privacy issue — namely, that it was circumventing cookie privacy settings in Safari — the search giant's fate is now sealed. A judge has approved the FTC's largest ever fine, in the process rejecting appeals from a consumer-rights group that the sum should be higher, which means Google is set to pony up a cool $US22.5 million.
As a refresher, the original problem was a result of some dubious cookie tactics used by Google. In February, we wrote:
The WSJ explains how Google has developed code that installs cookies on a users' device-without their permission-from adverts contained in web pages. Once installed, however, those cookies have potentially allowed Google to track browsing across the majority of websites.
Research by the WSJ showed that the code was present in adverts on Fandango.com, Match.com, AOL.com, TMZ.com and UrbanDictionary.com, among others, and that it worked on both desktop and mobile versions of Safari...
The code in question stems from the development of Google+, being developed to skirt the way Safari blocked an original implementation of the "+1" button on third-party websites. Instead of directly using cookies, which Safari doesn't allow without user consent, the code made Safari think that a person was submitting an invisible form to Google. Sneaky. Then, Google had free reign to add cookies-and track a user's browsing-without the user ever knowing.
The decision to go ahead with the fine came from US District Judge Susan Illston late Friday, reports AP, and rejects a consumer-rights group's plea for tougher punishment. Illston found the fine "fair, adequate and reasonable", and the Big G is clearly happy with the result, explaining that it's "glad the court agreed there was no merit to this challenge". I bet.
For what it's worth, Google made $US22.5 million in revenue every five hours last year. [AP]