The Federal Trade Commission is trying to have our backs when it comes to privacy and the data we are all, every minute, inadvertently sharing with our Google and Facebook overlords. On Monday, they levied a fine on Google that's their largest to date for a privacy violation: $22.5 million. Google got caught trying to sneak around Apple's Safari software on mobile devices to access users' browsing habits even if they believed they'd blocked such access, and for that they're getting the hefty slap on the wrist, which of course isn't going to put the tiniest dent in their mountain of cash.
It does, nonetheless, send a signal around Silicon Valley that the FTC is watching and isn't fucking around when it comes to this stuff. What, for instance, might Facebook get fined should they be caught doing anything similar?
The FTC's actions stem from a February Wall Street Journal investigation into Google's practices with regard to iPhone tracking. In that report, the Journal found that there was some Google tracking code buried in some web pages that enabled Google to clandestinely begin monitoring a user's browsing habits and using those to direct ads, despite claiming that users could rely on Safari's privacy settings to block such tracking. Google responded saying that the Journal was mischaracterizing the situation, and "We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. It's important to stress that these advertising cookies do not collect personal information."
The FTC disagreed that this was above-board, and now companies are wondering who else might be next. In the past three years, they've actually separately charged Google, Facebook, and Twitter with privacy violations, and while there were no fines attached before, the companies each signed 20-year consent decrees that would levy fines of $16,000 per day for such violations. Hence this new fine.