Google to Pay $17 Million for Tracking Users of Certain Web Browsers

Google to Pay $17 Million for Tracking Users of Certain Web Browsers
Image: Google
November 18, 2013

Google will pay $17 million to North Carolina and 37 other states and make changes to how it tracks consumers' Internet surfing under a settlement annouced Monday.

The settlement resolves issues with Google Inc. concerning its setting of cookies, small files that can be used to track a user's web browsing activity, on certain Safari web browsers during 2011 and 2012.

Google operates the most popular search engine on the Internet. Use of the search engine is free, so Google generates revenue primarily through advertising. Through its DoubleClick advertising platform, Google sets third-party cookies that enable it to gather information about consumers, including their web surfing habits.

Google had offered consumers a way to opt out of having third-party advertising cookies set on their browsers by installing a special plugin. Statements on Google's website misled users of Apple's Safari browser by suggesting that they did not need to install the plugin because Safari's default settings automatically blocked third-party cookies. However, Google sidestepped those default settings and placed cookies on the computers of Safari users without the consumers' knowledge or consent.

From June 1, 2011 until February 15, 2012, Google altered its DoubleClick coding to bypass default privacy settings on Safari, enabling it to set DoubleClick cookies on consumers' browsers. Google disabled this coding method in February 2012 after the practice was widely reported on the Internet and in media.

38 state Attorneys General alleged that Google violated consumer protection and computer privacy laws by misleading consumers and failing to inform them that it was circumventing their privacy settings. To resolve these allegations, Google has agreed to pay the participating states $17 million, including $427,854.86 to North Carolina to be used for consumer protection purposes.

To prevent similar problems in the future, Google has also agreed to:

  • Not use the type of code used here to override a browser's cookie blocking settings without the consumer's consent, unless necessary to address fraud, security or technical issues.
  • Not misrepresent or omit material information about how consumers can use any Google product, service, or tool to manage how Google serves advertisements to their Browsers.
  • Improve the information it provides to consumers regarding cookies, their purposes, and how they can be managed using Google's tools.
  • Maintain systems designed to ensure that any third-party cookies set on Safari browsers while their default settings were circumvented have expired.