Google Now Under Formal Investigation In US, Europe For Cookiegate

According to the Wall Street Journal, US and European regulators are now formally investigating the facts and circumstances behind “Cookiegate,” the circumvention of default privacy settings on the iPhone’s Safari browser by Google. When the practice was discovered or revealed in an article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year it was discontinued by Google.

At the time Google put out a statement, arguing it was merely delivering the experience that its users had already signed-in to receive, and that it wasn’t some sort of nefarious plot:

The Journal mischaracterizes what happened and why. We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. It’s important to stress that these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.

The outcome of the US and European investigations could be fines and other penalties for Google.

In the US the central question is whether the Google behavior violated a privacy settlement with the US FTC over Google Buzz, which required, among other things, that Google not “misrepresent” its privacy practices going forward. Reportedly the fine could be $16,000 per day for any violation, if the Cookiegate activity is deemed to have violated that Buzz Settlement.

US state Attorneys General are simultaneously and separately investigating the Safari browser privacy issue, which could also bring a parallel set of financial penalties. Google would of course be able to pay any fines without flinching. However negative publicity and potential damage to Google’s reputation among the public are the larger concerns.

Last week the Pew Internet Project released survey data that showed the US public overwhelmingly favored Google in their search engine usage but didn’t like the idea of search personalization or behaviorally targeted ads.

Related Entries

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Legal | Google: Privacy | Legal: Privacy

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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