Google has agreed to pay a $22.5 million fine to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to settle charges related to Google placing tracking cookies to spy on user activity in Apple’s Safari Web browser. While $22.5 million is a record fine for the FTC, it’s a drop in the bucket that won’t be missed by Google and shows how US government agencies have their priorities backward.
Were you watching the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show performed by Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson? Did you see Janet Jackson’s nipple during the now-infamous “wardrobe malfunction”? Probably not. It was so brief that most of the world would never even know it happened if it hadn’t been replayed a million times in slow motion. It hardly seems worthy of any attention.
The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) apparently didn’t agree. The FCC threw the proverbial book at CBS and levied a record $550,000 fine for the audacity of accidentally airing a fraction of a second of nudity on public television.
Granted $550,000 is much less than $22.5 million, so it’s hard to compare the fines “apples to apples”. The point is that the FCC has spent years pursuing a ridiculous fine for an accidental event that should have been ignored, while the FTC is giving Google a slap on the wrist for intentionally circumventing privacy protection in the Apple Safari browser to spy on millions of users.
There is a gross irony just within the FCC. For some reason it’s OK to air graphic violence, and a wide variety of material that I wouldn’t want my teens to see, but a second of nudity is somehow a heinous violation that needs to be aggressively pursued. But, that’s beside the point in this case.
The real question is why one US agency feels the need to spend years devoting significant resources to prosecute an infraction that most people couldn’t care less about, while another US agency seems to be willing to look the other way more or less regarding an intentional violation of privacy.
Of course, what else can the FTC do? Fine Google more money? How much is enough?
Besides, it’s just money. How does that prevent Google (or any other company) from violating privacy in the future? And, the fine is being paid to the FTC. How does that repair the damage already done for all of those Google spied on?
Average users don’t have any practical way of defending themselves, or of taking any action against a company the size of Google. We rely on the government agencies like the FCC and FTC to enforce policies and protect the general public. But, the agencies seem to have their own agendas, and in many cases lack the power to do anything meaningful.