To recap: In February 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported on new research by Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer that shows four companies seek to circumvent consumers’ privacy settings in Apple’s browser, Safari. The four companies are: Google, Vibrant Media, Media Innovation Group and PointRoll. Google said the circumvention was a mistake and it has disabled the code, but there was (pdf) public criticism, including a complaint (pdf) filed with the Federal Trade Commission. Questions were raised about whether the Safari circumvention meant that Google had violated a settlement it made with the FTC last year over Google’s Buzz product. The Internet services giant had agreed to a comprehensive privacy program to settle charges (pdf) it “used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises to consumers when it launched its social network, Google Buzz. In August 2012, the FTC announced Google would have to pay a minimal-for-the-Internet-giant fine of $22.5 million to settle charges that it circumvented users’ Do Not Track privacy settings in Safari.
Now, Maryland has announced that it has joined 36 states at the District of Columbia in settling with Google over the Safari privacy case. In a news release, Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said, “The $17 million settlement requires Google to change its privacy practices.” The privacy changes include:
- Not deploy the type of code used here 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 provides to consumers regarding cookies, their purposes, and how they can be 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.