Google To Fork Over Cash For Cookies

If you think the price of Girl Scout Cookies has gone up the last few years, be glad your cookie bill doesn’t match what Google had to pay lately. Google recently got socked with an unprecedented $22.5 million fine to settle a cookie related privacy dispute with the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC alleged that the company violated a previous consent order when it overrode privacy settings to plant cookies on computers of Safari Internet users.

A federal district court approved the settlement agreement to resolve the dispute.In addition to the fine, the order requires Google to disable Safari-based tracking cookies until February 15, 2014, and to report to the FTC on its compliance efforts. But not everyone approves of the settlement terms.

In a hearing last week, advocacy group Consumer Watchdog opposed the agreement, arguing that the injunction is inadequate, the civil penalty too small, and that Google should be forced to admit liability. The court responded and dismissed each of these concerns in its decision.

Finding the injunction adequate, the court determined that Google wouldn’t likely profit from the collected information. Both the FTC and Google agreed that the information was already old and that the IP addresses were anonymized.

As to the amount of the fine, the court acknowledged that it was a small portion of Google’s $40 billion revenue. But $22.5 million is still the largest fine imposed on a company for violating a consent order. Plus, the complaint never alleged that Safari users suffered any financial harm or that the cookies yielded significant income for Google.

Finally, the court determined that, because other settlement agreements didn’t require admissions of wrongdoing, Google didn’t have to admit liability either.

What do you think? Are these penalties enough to punish and prevent privacy breaches?