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Google coughs up $17m in Safari-tracking case

Google has agreed to pay $17 million (£10.5 million) in a multi-state deal to settle charges that it misrepresented how users of Apple's Safari browser were having their Internet activity tracked.

As part of the deal, Google has pledged not to override a browser's cookie-blocking settings without consent or misrepresent how consumers can use or manage Google's tracking tools. The search giant will also improve the information it provides to consumers about cookie tracking and delete cookies that were gathered during the time period that Google ignored Safari settings.

The news comes more than a year after the Federal Trade Commission reached a similar, $22.5 million (£13.97 million) settlement with Google.

At issue were advertising cookies that Google placed on the computers of Safari users who visited sites within Google's DoubleClick advertising network. Google, however, wrongly told Safari users they would be opted out of such tracking thanks to Safari's default settings. The search giant also said it was a member of the Network Advertising Initiative, which requires firms to disclose their data collection and use practices.

The states said that the move violated state consumer protection and related computer privacy law.

According to the FTC, Google's actions did not violate US law, but they did violate a March 2011 deal over Google's Buzz program that required Google to implement privacy safeguards, submit to regular audits, and banned it from future privacy misrepresentations.

Monday's deal was hashed out by a 10-state executive committee, which included New York, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey, Texas, Vermont, and Washington.

"Consumers should be able to know whether there are other eyes surfing the web with them. By tracking millions of people without their knowledge, Google violated not only their privacy, but also their trust," said Eric T. Schneiderman, attorney general for New York, which will receive $899,580 (£558,500) in the settlement. "We must give consumers the reassurance that they can browse the Internet safely and securely. My office will continue to protect New Yorkers from any attempts to deliberately expose their personal data."

Other states involved include 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.

Image: Flickr (srqpix)