Google to pay fine for breaching smartphone privacy

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Google has agreed to pay US$17 million to 37 states as well as the District of Columbia for secretly tracking web users by setting up special digital files on their smartphones’ web browsers.

A press release from New York’s Attorney General announced “nearly US$900K from Google to prevent future violations of consumer privacy.”

Unveiled on Monday, the deal ends a two-year investigation that found that Google allegedly bypassed the privacy settings of those using Apple’s Safari web browser by integrating “cookies”.

A cookie is a special file that enables advertisers and websites to identify individual web surfers and monitor their browsing activities.

Used on iPads and iPhones, the Safari web browser instantly blocks tracking cookies. However, Google allegedly altered the cookies’ computer code, allowing it to circumvent the blocks from June 2011 to February 2012.

The problem was discovered by Stanford researchers, and this led to the nationwide investigation.

Whilst it did not admit any wrongdoing, Google said that it has taken the necessary “steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple’s browser.”

Back in August 2012, the company also agreed to pay US$22 million to settle an investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission involving the same issue.

As the number one internet search engine in the world, Google generated revenue of around US$50 billion in 2012, most of which came from advertising.

Monday’s deal saw Google agreeing not to use codes that are capable of overriding browser settings without the consumer’s consent, except for fraud, technical or security issues. The company also agreed to provide its consumers with more information relating to cookies over the next five years.

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