Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, along with the attorneys general of 36 other states and the District of Columbia, announced a $17 million settlement with Google Inc. concerning its placement of third-party cookies on Safari Web browsers during 2011 and 2012.
“Consumers’ default privacy settings were circumvented without their knowledge,” Attorney General DeWine said. “We take these issues seriously, and we negotiated to reach a comprehensive settlement that not only provides significant payment to the states but also addresses the specific practices involved.”
Google generates revenue primarily through advertising. Through its DoubleClick advertising platform it sets third-party cookies — small files in consumers’ Web browsers — that enable third-party advertisers to gather information about those consumers, including their Web surfing habits.
By default, Apple’s Safari Web browser is set to block third-party cookies, but from June 1, 2011 to February 15, 2012, Google circumvented Safari’s default privacy settings and set third-party cookies on Safari Web browsers. Google disabled the circumvention method in February 2012 after the practice was widely reported on the Internet and in the media.
The attorneys general allege that Google’s circumvention of the default privacy settings violated state consumer protection laws and related computer privacy laws. The states claim that Google failed to inform Safari users that it was circumventing their privacy settings and gave them the false impression that their default privacy settings would block third-party cookies. In turn, users’ Web surfing habits could be tracked without the users’ knowledge.
To resolve the allegations, Google agreed to pay the attorneys general $17 million. Ohio will receive $716,624.13, which will go to the Consumer Protection Enforcement Fund.
Google also agreed to:
Not override a browser’s cookie-blocking settings without the consumer’s consent unless it is necessary to 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 provides to consumers regarding cookies, their purposes, and how consumers can manage cookies while using Google’s products or services.
Maintain systems designed to ensure the expiration of the third-party cookies set on Safari Web browsers during the time the default settings had been circumvented.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office was part of the settlement’s executive committee, which also included Maryland, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Vermont, and Washington. Also participating in the settlement were the attorneys general of 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.