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FTC to Punish Google for Mobile Hacking

According to Consumer Watchdog, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reportedly plans to fine Google $22.5 million for hacking around privacy settings on iPhones and iPads that use Apple’s Safari browser.

Consumer Watchdog praised the Commission Tuesday, July 10, for its expected strong action defending consumer privacy. Consumer Watchdog had filed a complaint in February with the FTC after Stanford Researcher Jonathan Mayer revealed what Google was doing.

According to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Google is close to a deal to pay the penalty imposed by the FTC.

Earlier, documents obtained by Consumer Watchdog showed that Google cannot meet the security requirements of the Los Angeles Police Department with its Google Apps for Government, a so-called cloud computing system, which was to have provided the City of Los Angeles with an email system for 30,000 employees.

Consumer Watchdog called on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to disclose fully and immediately the extent to which Google had failed to comply with its contractual obligations in the project. (Read: “Google Cannot Meet Security Promises”)

In another case, Facebook had agreed to settle FTC charges that it deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public. (Read: Facebook Charged with Cheating Consumers)

Even today, Facebook is hiding information or not presenting it truthfully in order to entice advertisers on its site. All its claims about its numbers, etc. should get audited by an independent group of experts and made public. If possible, the auditing should be done under the supervision of FTC. (Read: Why You Should Not Advertise on Facebook)

“Google hacked past a key privacy setting on iPhones and iPads and other devices using Apple’s Safari browser, placed tracking cookies on them and then lied, saying the settings were still effective,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “I am delighted the FTC appears ready to take strong action against an obvious violation of Google’s promises to honor users’ privacy in its ‘Buzz’ Consent Decree with the Commission.”

The fine was expected to be the largest penalty ever imposed on a single company by the Commission. Under terms of the consent decree the FTC could fine Google up to $16,000 per violation per day, said Consumer Watchdog.

“The size of the fine is apparently a record for the FTC and in that context sends a strong message about the seriousness of Google’s wanton and egregious privacy violation,” said Simpson. “Nonetheless, it’s a drop in the bucket for Google. It would have been better to base the fine on a substantial percentage of the company’s annual revenue, which was $40 billion last year. Google should feel real pain for its wanton violation.”

[ Also Read: Republican Convention Selects Google as Tech Partner ]

A study released Feb. 17 by Jonathan Mayer of Stanford University’s Security Lab, and the Center for Internet and Society, found that Google was circumventing a privacy setting in Apple’s Safari web browser.

Like most web browsers, Safari provides the option not to receive third-party “cookies.” Cookies are small bits of code placed on the browser and can be used by ad networks to track you as you surf the web. Blocking third-party cookies is supposed to prevent such tracking.

Safari is the primary browser on the iPhone and iPad. It is also the default browser on Apple’s computers.

For more information, you can visit Consumer Watchdog website at www.ConsumerWatchdog.org

Photo courtesy: Consumer Watchdog / FTC

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