Google and the government have a very sketchy relationship. They recently received a $25,000 fine for the StreetView debacle, plus the impending anti-trust case, but that isn't their only current problem. They have also been under investigation over a violation of Internet privacy, overriding security settings on Apple's Safari web browser, and this fine won't be a slap on the wrist.
The issue revolves around Google planting cookies on the users computer, which allowed Google to bypass Safari's privacy settings. The cookies allowed Google to target ads to users on all platforms using Safari, including desktops, laptops, iPads and iPhones. As with the StreetView issue, they claimed it was an accident and that they removed the files. According to an anonymous source familiar with the issue, Google and the FTC are currently in discussions over the size of the fine for this breach of public trust. The numbers are currently topping out in the $10 million range.
Why is this breach of privacy going to cost so much more than the last? Hit the break for the details.
While Google had no agreement with the FCC to not breach users privacy, they do have such an agreement with the FTC. Yes, you read that right - Google has a specific agreement with the FTC to not breach users privacy. This agreement came about after another of Google's disasters, the launch of Google Buzz. After they specifically breached their own terms of service, the FTC made them agree to a 20-year settlement that bars them from misrepresenting how it deals with user data. This breach, along with the StreetView issue, breach that agreement, but this doesn't involve the FCC, so it is easier for the FTC to take the lead.
The FTC isn't the only organization concerned about Google and their practices. The Center for Digital Democracy believes that Google has become the primary problem on the Internet. Their executive director, Jeffrey Chester, said,
Google is quickly becoming the privacy problem child for regulators in the U.S. and Europe... The Commission's work to enforce its consent decree with Google shows there's a real regulatory cop on the digital beat.
Up until now, the fear of the FTC has obviously not prevented Google from breaking their own policies and agreements, but perhaps a $10 million fine will do the trick. It will certainly be more effective than a $25,000 slap on the wrist.