by MATT GALLAGHER, Red Herring
The FTC fined Google $22.5 million to settle charges of bypassing privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser, the largest civil fine ever for the commission, though at Google’s daily earnings (about $32 million in 2011), it amounts to a little more than a traffic ticket.
“The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order,” said Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC. “No matter how big or small, all companies must abide by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promises to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place.”
However, even some members of the FTC had to admit the fine amounted to little more than a wrist slap for the search giant, considering the ad revenues it rakes in and the fact that the tracking violations enabled higher marketing intelligence for its advertising platform.
“$22.5 million represents a de minimis amount of Google’s profit or revenues,” pointed out FTC Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch in a dissenting statement, referring to the legal term for too small to be relevant.
And even ex-Googler’s had a good laugh over penalty. Brian Kennish, an ex-Googler engineer who also founded Disconnect, the privacy software company, Tweeted a picture of a smiling bearded man with a single tooth. That’s practically the FTC’s fine cached in a Photobucket.
The fine had first been reported a month ago, though FTC had not finalized the penalty and Google had yet to agree to pay it.
And by writing that several-million dollar check, Google gets off on an admission of guilt, worth every penny as the company is currently being investigated by the European Commission over similar charges related to the Safari tracking.
Google downplayed the controversy. It has previously stated the data collection was unintentional and anonymous. The company released a statement that broke the collection down over a time line.
“We set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users. The FTC is focused on a 2009 help center page published more than two years before our consent decree, and a year before Apple changed its cookie-handling policy. We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple’s browsers.”
The size of the FTC’s penalty, however, sends a clear message that the commission will now take privacy violations more seriously, even if that does amount to little more than a speeding ticket, no matter the model or color of your Lamborghini.