Google – Another Historic Fine as It Continues Building the Internet’s Corvair

by Mike Wendy on August 9, 2012

I was able to listen to an FTC media call today as officials talked about Google’s latest penalty – $22.5 million, the largest in FTC history – for misrepresenting its privacy assurances to Safari users when the company “inadvertently” skirted Apple’s Safari default cookie-blocking settings, enabling it to surreptitiously install cookies on users’ Safari browsers to track their website visits.

The FTC release is here.

This is what some outraged Tweeters had to say on the #privacy hastag:

From @ambuss: #Google pays $22.5m to settle do not track violations. How much for the next company that tries to play fast and loose? #Privacy

From @caseyoppenheim: Google’s fine of $22.5M is analogous to a $25 fine for person making 40K/year. Like half a parking ticket. #FTCpriv #privacy

From @jesterhazy: “Google agrees to largest fine in FTC history” — almost 3 whole hours of revenue! That’ll show ’em. #privacy #fail

I will not belabor this.  I just want to add two points here:

1. For a company that strenuously urges self-regulation when it comes to the (still) largely unregulated practices of Internet data collection and use, this recidivist activity is a funny way of promoting that message.  Sadly, the industry – not just Google – will suffer when, after enough of these “misrepresentations” occur, and lawmakers get finally fed up, inflexible laws governing data collection will happen, locking down the industry, as well any innovation and consumer benefit that could have occurred without stultifying regulation.  That, er, would stink for us all.

And 2. A question came up about whether the Safari hack was inadvertent, as was allegedly claimed by the company (where have we heard that before…oh, Google Wi-Spy).  And the FTC official speaking to this had this interesting response (which I paraphrase): “What is worse – that they didn’t know or that they did it with intent?   Both are bad.  Regardless, because they have so much of our personal data, the social contract means Google has to do a better job honoring its privacy commitments.”  Boy, that’s an understatement if ever there was one. 

So, the ball is yet again in Google’s court.  Do they want to truly “do no evil” and honor their agreement and so-called social contract; or do they want to bring the hammer down on the rest of us as they pursue their recidivist ways?

Quiet enjoyment or lawless trespass?

Shall it continue building the Internet’s Corvair, which is unsafe at any speed?  Or, be the Internet’s Volvo, which is simultaneously innovative and safe for consumers?

It’s your call, Google.  The industry and consumers await.

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