Can anything rein in Google?

posted at 8:41 am on July 20, 2012 by Jazz Shaw

By this point it’s not exactly a surprise that Google has invaded pretty much every aspect of your online life, even if you don’t own a computer. (That bird outside your window? He works for Google.) But a recent judgement seems to send the beginning of a message that perhaps the internet behemoth has gone too far.

Google and the Federal Trade Commission are near a $22.5 million settlement agreement related to charges that Google bypassed privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser to show advertisements, according to a person briefed on the proposed settlement.

The $22.5 million fine would be the largest privacy-related settlement in F.T.C. history. It comes as the commission investigates Google for antitrust violations and cracks down on privacy missteps by tech companies, including Google, which last year agreed to pay for any future privacy blunders as part of a separate F.T.C. settlement.

The settlement seems to revolve around Google’s intentional work to subvert the choice by Safari browser users to not have cookies installed on their machines and have their activities tracked so Google could tailor the ads they saw. They simply ignored the settings. Doug Bonderud referred to the fine as a slap on the wrist, given Google’s cash status. So will this have any effect on them?

I have one laptop which I only use for some client work on which I’ve never logged in to my mail account, or any other personalized settings. I do have a default set of start pages which include The Weather Channel so I can look at the local weather radar while traveling. I also like fishing, so a couple of times I clicked on some links for the local solunar tables or fishing forecasts. Lacking any other link to who I might be or what I might like, the Google ads on their page have since then served up links to articles about fishing and stores which sell fishing gear.

How much is too much? Should the government be stepping in here? I know conservatives normally have a knee-jerk reaction against government regulation, but doesn’t this bother people? It would be nice to think that simple public scorn and “voting with your wallet” would have an impact, but obviously Google has grown far beyond caring about such things. Is this a problem that needs to be fixed or has that ship already sailed? I’d be interested to hear the responses to this one.


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