As you may or may not know, there’s a setting in mobile Safari for the iPhone and the iPad that allows users to completely disable cookies, disallowing them from being downloaded.
In February, it was leaked that Google had been overriding privacy settings for several browsers, including Safari and Internet Explorer, in order to display advertisements. The Mountain View company was doing the same thing on iPhones and iPads, which could amount to a large fine for the company, which will be penalized on a day-by-day basis.
Google admits that it altered default settings in Safari in order to allow its “+1” button from Google+ to work with Apple’s browser, but claims that it did not intend to alter iPhone security settings, allowing tracking software to attach itself to the mobile Safari browsers in iDevices. Here’s what Google had to say:
“We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. We created a temporary link between Safari browsers and Google’s servers, so that we could ascertain whether Safari users were also signed into Google, and had opted for personalized ads and other content. However, the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser.
If that sounds fishy to you, don’t worry, the Federal Trade Commission doesn’t quite believe the statement either, and is currently investigating whether Google violated the terms of a privacy settlement that it agreed to during the existence of its Google Buzz social network. As part of this settlement, Google agreed to 20 years of outside reviews of its privacy policies, which is what brought this case to light.
If the FTC decides that Google was sharing personal data with third party websites through the cookies in the Safari browser, the search engine giant could be fined up to $16,000 per violation per day, which is a huge chunk of change. Fines from the investigation are expected to come within the next 30 days, after the government determines how many users were affected and what data was shared.