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Schneiderman: $17 million multistate settlement with Google over tracking of consumers

by jmaloni

Submitted

Tue, Nov 19th 2013 05:00 pm

Agreement secures nearly $900K for New York and reforms from Google to prevent future violations of consumer privacy

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced his office has entered into multistate a settlement agreement with Google Inc. concerning its unauthorized placement of cookies on computers using Apple Safari Web browsers during 2011 and 2012. Of the $17 million in settlement money, New York will receive $899,580.

"Consumers should be able to know whether there are other eyes surfing the Web with them. By tracking millions of people without their knowledge, Google violated not only their privacy, but also their trust," Schneiderman said. "We must give consumers the reassurance that they can browse the Internet safely and securely. My office will continue to protect New Yorkers from any attempts to deliberately expose their personal data."

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 — small files set in consumers' Web browsers — that enable it to gather information about those consumers. Depending on the type of cookie, this information could include consumers' Web-surfing habits. Apple's Safari Web browser is set by default to block third-party cookies, including cookies set by DoubleClick to track a consumer's browsing history. From June 1, 2011, until Feb. 15, 2012, Google altered its DoubleClick coding to circumvent those default privacy settings on Safari, without consumers' knowledge or consent, enabling it to put DoubleClick cookies on consumers' Safari Web browsers. Google disabled this coding method in February 2012 after the practice was widely reported on the Internet and in the media.

The attorneys general allege Google's circumvention of Safari's default privacy settings for blocking third-party cookies violates state consumer protection and related computer privacy laws. The states claim Google failed to inform Safari users that it was circumventing their privacy settings and that Google's earlier representation that third-party cookies were blocked for Safari users was misleading. In order to resolve these allegations, Google has agreed to pay the attorneys general $17 million and has also agreed to injunctive relief that requires it to do the following:

•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.

New York was a member of a 10-state executive committee, which also included Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey, Texas, Vermont and Washington. The multistate agreement also included the offices of the attorney general of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, District of Columbia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Assistant Attorney General Clark Russell represented New York in the multistate investigation, under the supervision of Executive Deputy Attorney General of Economic Justice Karla G. Sanchez.

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