Attorney General Eric Schneiderman just went full hashtag on Twitter to celebrate the news that Google reached a $17 million multi-state settlement over tracking consumers online. But considering that Google made $14.9 billion just last quarter, it hardly seems like a victory for consumer privacy.
— Eric Schneiderman (@AGSchneiderman) November 18, 2013
The settlement concerns Google's "unauthorized placement of cookies on computers using Apple Safari Web browsers during 2011 and 2012." During that time, Safari's default privacy setting blocked third-party cookies, but Google altered DoubleClick's code to circumvent the block and didn't inform Safari users. Google only disabled this coding practice after it was widely reported in the media.
In addition to the $17 million slap on the wrist—New York gets $899,580 of that, so a more like a tap on the wrist, really—Google agreed to following, according to a press release from Schneiderman's office:
- Not deploy the type of code used in this case to override a browser's cookie blocking settings without the consumer's consent unless it is necessary to do so in order to detect, prevent or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues.
- Not misrepresent or omit material information to consumers about how they can use any particular Google product, service, or tool to directly manage how Google serves advertisements to their browsers.
- Improve the information it gives consumers regarding cookies, their purpose, and how the cookies are managed by consumers using Google's products or services and tools.
- Maintain systems designed to ensure the expiration of the third-party cookies set on Safari Web browsers while their default settings had been circumvented.
Privacy issues have moved well-beyond just cookies. It's not clear how Google's new beta program to track which stores you go to through your smartphone adheres to that second bullet point. But what's another $17 million (plus inflation) in 2015?