Tennessee and 36 other states and the District of Columbia will receive $17 million as the result of an agreement with Google regarding some of its user-tracking devices on certain Safari web browsers, Attorney General Bob Cooper announced today.
At issue is concern of its alleged misleading claims regarding privacy setting on some Safari web browsers during 2011 and 2012. Google had been offering consumers the ability to opt out of having third-party advertising "cookies" set on their browsers. Cookies are small files set in consumers' web browsers that enable it in some cases to gather information about the users web-surfing habits. That information is often used to target consumers for certain advertisements.
Google is alleged to have represented on its website that "Safari is set by default to block all third-party cookies," noting, "If you have not changed those settings, this option effectively accomplishes the same thing as setting the opt-out cookie."
This statement was misleading to Safari users because it suggested that they would not receive third-party cookies when in truth, Google circumvented Safari's default setting, enabling cookies without the consumers knowledge or consent.
"It is important that consumers be aware of how their information will be used and how consumers can change or manage how their information is used" said Attorney General Robert Cooper.
Google operates the most popular search engine on the Internet. Use of the search engine is free, so Google generates revenue primarily through advertising. Through its DoubleClick advertising platform, Google sets third-party cookies. Apple's Safari Web browser is set by default to block third-party cookies (including cookies set by DoubleClick to track a consumer's browsing history). The complaint alleges that from June 1, 2011 until Feb. 15, 2012, Google altered its DoubleClick coding to circumvent those default privacy settings on Safari without its users knowledge or consent. Google disabled this coding method in February 2012 after the practice was widely reported on the Internet and in media.
The Attorneys General allege that Google's circumvention of the default privacy settings in Safari for blocking third-party cookies violates State consumer protection and related computer privacy laws. In order to resolve these allegations, Google has agreed to pay the Attorneys General $17 million. Tennessee's share is $352,725. Additionally, the company has agreed to change its business practices in the future. Among other provisions, the company has agreed it will no longer 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. In addition, Google has agreed it will not misrepresent or omit certain important information consumers need to know about their privacy settings.