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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 18, 2013
Google to pay Washington state $610,600 to settle consumer tracking allegations

Washington helped lead $17M multi-state settlement with Google

SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today that his office, along with 36 states and the District of Columbia, entered into a settlement with Google Inc. for tracking information on Apple’s Safari web browser.

Google altered its coding to circumvent the Safari default privacy settings, without consumers’ knowledge or consent. This allowed advertisers to set third-party cookies on consumers’ Safari browsers, despite the fact those users believed their privacy settings protected them.

“Privacy is paramount,” said Ferguson. “If a business improperly intrudes on consumers’ privacy, the Attorney General’s Office will pursue them.”

Google tracked consumers through cookies

Through its DoubleClick advertising platform, Google’s search engine generates revenue by helping to transmit third-party advertising ‘cookies’ — small files set in Internet users’ Web browsers — that allow advertisers to gather information about those users. Depending on the type of cookie, the information collected could include the user’s web surfing habits and location.

Apple’s Safari Web browser (“Safari”) generally blocks third-party cookies in its default privacy settings, including cookies used by DoubleClick to track a consumer’s browsing history.

Overview of the alleged scheme

From June 1, 2011 until February 15, 2012, Google altered its DoubleClick coding to circumvent the Safari default privacy settings, without consumers’ knowledge or consent. This allowed advertisers to set third-party cookies on consumers’ Safari browsers and gather information, despite the fact those users believed their privacy settings protected them.

Google disabled this coding method in February 2012 after the practice was widely reported on the Internet and in media.

Attorneys General alleged unfair business practices

Washington and other states alleged that Google failed to inform Safari users that it was circumventing their privacy settings. They also allege Google misled consumers through earlier representation that cookies were automatically blocked for Safari users.

The attorneys general also alleged Google violated state consumer protection and related computer privacy laws by circumventing Safari’s default privacy cookie-blocking settings.

Washington asserted that these practices specifically violated the Washington State Consumer Protection Act.

Senior Counsel General Paula Selis is the lead on this case for Washington state.

Google’s settlement

In order to resolve these allegations, Google agreed to pay the states $17 million.

Of that amount, Washington state will receive approximately $610,600. These funds may be used for purposes that may include, but are not limited to, civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and future consumer protection education.

Google also agreed to injunctive relief that requires the following: 

• Refrain from using code to override a browser’s cookie blocking settings without the consumer’s consent unless it is necessary to detect or prevent fraud, security or technical issues.
• Not misrepresent or omit information about how Google connects advertisements to consumers’ browsers.
• Improve provided information 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 during the period that Google had circumvented the default settings.

States involved

Washington was part of a 10-state executive committee that led the investigations, which also included Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Vermont. The multi-state settlement also included Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, District of Columbia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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