Google Fined For Misleading Safari Users

Dennis Faas's picture

Google has agreed to pay a $17 million penalty for cheating a privacy system in Apple's Safari browser. Google was fined because it effectively lied to customers about its privacy policy.

The case involves cookies, small text files placed in a user's web browser so that websites can quickly get information about the user. In some cases this can be beneficial; for example, a movie listing site can make a note about a user's ZIP code so that they immediately receive localized listings when they visit the site.

In some cases, though, advertisers will use cookies to track which sites a user visits, then show them ads relevant to their tastes and interests. This contrasts with more traditional online advertising, which is based around the content of the page you are actually visiting.

Safari Designed to Block Advertiser Cookies

By default, Apple's Safari browser blocks any third-party cookies, meaning that if you visit a webpage, only the site can create cookies, not advertisers.

One exception to this is that third parties can create a cookie if they are using a form to collect data; for example, if an ad on a web page has a box to type in your email address to sign up for a newsletter.

Google deliberately adjusted the code behind its adverts to make it look as if there was a form (which wasn't the case), thereby allowing it to trick Safari into letting it create advertising tracking cookies.

To make things worse, Google's privacy policy told customers they would not get any Google cookies if they used Safari's default settings. That was untrue, which was the main focus of an investigation led by U.S. legal experts.

Google Must Not Repeat Cookie Trickery

Google has now agreed to a $17 million settlement with 37 states and the District of Columbia. Under the terms of the agreement, Google has not formally admitted any wrongdoing. (Source:

The agreement says Google must remove any cookies it delivered via Safari without the user's knowledge and must be clearer with customers about how its cookies work.

Although $17 million sounds like a hefty penalty, it's unlikely to cause Google much pain. One analyst notes it's the equivalent of around three hours' income for the search giant. (Source:

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