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Google gets slammed with the biggest FTC fine ever

Molly Wood Aug 10, 2012

Google gets slammed with the biggest FTC fine ever

Molly Wood Aug 10, 2012

Google has been hit with the biggest fine in the history of the Federal Trade Commission: $22.5 million. It has to do with cookies, bits of computer code placed on your browser when you visit a website.

Jonathan Mayer is the Stanford grad student who brought Google’s practices to light, which led to the fine. He says, “Google was setting cookies in Safari web browsers associated with their advertising service, “Double Click.” And they’d made a representation on their website that, if you were a Safari user, you wouldn’t be tracked by Google. So they breached that representation.”

The Safari browser is made by Apple.

Ryan Calo, law professor at the University of Washington, says in the end the case against Google was pretty simple. “No one knows for sure whether or not Google was doing this on purpose with full knowledge or whether it was an accident. Either way, it doesn’t really much matter from the Federal Trade Commission’s perspective. Because all it cares about is the fact that Google had said that it was not doing this activity. It had publicly represented this.”

Google was fined $22.5 million. Its revenue last year was nearly $38 billion. That’s roughly equivalent to someone making $50,000 a year being fined $29.50.

Calo says it’ll still sting: “No matter how much rev you bring in, $22 million is a lot of money. And second, it’s a lot of bad publicity to be fined by the Federal Trade Commission, which is the flagship federal agency that goes after online privacy violations, right? And so what I think it means for Google is that they need to be very, very careful and they need to always understand what is the technical significance of what they’re doing.”

It’s not the first time Google’s been called on the carpet, either. Says Calo: “They also collected a bunch of Wi-Fi data through their “Streetview.” And when asked about it, the company said, “Hey, we didn’t realize we were doing this.” And maybe that’s true, right? I mean, this is a big company doing a lot of technology at once. BUT if you’re going to be turning around and hit with enormous fines and bad publicity every time this kind of thing happens, you need to proceed very, very carefully.”

Now, will this huge fine change how companies follow you around online? Says Calo, “Given the sustained attention, given the many lawsuits that we’re seeing in connection with privacy. I think that cumulatively these things will probably result in more responsible behavior. That said, I got to say, the drive to track, the drive to get more and more data from consumers doesn’t seem to be ebbing anytime soon.”


Gitalong cyber dawgies, it’s the Robot Roundup. Let’s see how the machine uprising is going.

ROBOTS are spending a year in Lake Superior.  Even when the top of the lake is frozen. They’ll measure temperature and currents. Researchers hope to eliminate fair weather bias where conclusions about a lake are reached based only on data collected in the summer when humans can collect it. Robots are better than humans. Sorry, just trying to get in good when the revolution comes.

ROBOTS are victims of sexism! German researchers made pictures of two robots. One with short hair and straight lips, the other with long hair and curved lips. A focus group said the short haired robot, the one that looks like a dude, would be good at repairing devices and guarding houses. Long haired lady robot? Child care and household chores. I apologize for my species, robots.

But it’s not all cold winters and sexism.

ROBOTS are great at picking strawberries. A British robot is being developed that uses microwaves to find strawberries, measure the water content inside – which indicates ripeness- , and pick the yummy ones. Then people eat those strawberries while saying, “Sorry, robots!” because robots can’t eat and then the uprising occurs.

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