Google Settles Cookie Planting Suit

Google has agreed to pay $17 million to settle charges by a group of state attorneys general concerning unauthorized placement of cookies on computers.

At issue was the Apple Safari browser in 2011 and 2012.

"Consumers should be able to know whether there are other eyes surfing the web with them," said New York State AG Eric Schneiderman. "By tracking millions of people without their knowledge, Google violated not only their privacy but also their trust."

Safari's default setting blocks third-party cookies, including those set by Google's DoubleClick ad platform.

The AG's had alleged that Google had altered its DoubleClick coding to circumvent that default setting without users consent.

Google did not admit guilt, but agreed not to do what it did not admit to doing. In addition to ponying up the money, Google also agreed to:

"Not deploy the type of code used in this case to override a browser's cookie blocking settings without the consumer's consent unless it is necessary to do so in order to detect, prevent or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues."

"Not misrepresent or omit material information to consumers about how they can use any particular Google product, service, or tool to directly manage how Google serves advertisements to their browsers."

"Improve the information it gives consumers regarding cookies, their purpose, and how the cookies are managed by consumers using Google's products or services and tools."

"Maintain systems designed to ensure the expiration of the third-party cookies set on Safari Web browsers while their default settings had been circumvented."

Other states dividing up the dough are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, District of Columbia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Google said of the settlement: "We work hard to get privacy right at Google and have taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple's browsers. We're pleased to have worked with the state attorneys general to reach this agreement."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.