Consumer Watchdog Seeks To Weigh In On Google's Privacy Settlement

GoogleGavel-AThe advocacy group Consumer Watchdog is asking a federal judge for permission to weigh in against Google's plan to pay a $22.5 million fine to settle privacy charges with the Federal Trade Commission.

Consumer Watchdog argues that the deal in this case isn't appropriate because Google is denying liability. The nonprofit filed papers this week asking U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston to allow it to submit a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

Consumer Watchdog -- which has long criticized the search giant -- also is asking Illston to order the FTC and Google to more fully flesh out why they believe the settlement should move forward.

Google said in a statement that it is "confident that there is no basis for this challenge" to the proposed resolution.

The settlement, announced earlier this month, would resolve contempt charges stemming from allegations that Google developed a workaround to Safari's no-tracking settings. Google still faces a potential class-action lawsuit by users who say the company violated their privacy.

Google said it originally developed a workaround to Safari's no-tracking settings in order to allow Safari users to like ads with the +1 button. But once the workaround was in place, Google's DoubleClick was able to track people in order to target ads to them, based on their Web-surfing history.

The workaround in itself might not have prompted the FTC to file charges, but Google had specifically instructed users that the Safari browser would block tracking cookies. That statement gave the FTC grounds to charge Google with contempt for allegedly violating a 2011 consent decree that bans the company from misrepresenting its privacy practices.

FTC Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch dissented from the vote to accept the settlement. He issued a statement questioning whether the deal "is in the public interest when it contains a denial of liability."

The three commissioners who voted to approve the settlement said earlier this month that a company's denial of liability is irrelevant to whether an agreement is in the public interest.

"In our view, the most important question is whether Google will abide by the underlying FTC consent order going forward," the FTC stated at the time. "We firmly believe that the Commission’s swift imposition of a $22.5 million fine helps to promote such future compliance."

At the same time, those commissioners said they "share Commissioner Rosch’s desire to avoid any possible public misimpression that the Commission obtains settlements when it lacks reason to believe that the alleged conduct occurred." They added that in the future, "express denials" by defendants "will be strongly disfavored."

Tags: ftc, google, legal
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