Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced Tuesday that Oregon and several other states have entered into a settlement with Google Inc. regarding Google’s manipulation of “cookie” settings on Apple’s Safari web browser in 2011 and 2012.
A cookie is a small file placed in a web browser in order to gather information about a user’s web activities. Google had informed consumers that Safari’s default settings block third-party cookies, and would “effectively accomplish the same thing” as a browser plug-in designed to block such cookies.
Then, from June 1, 2011 until February 15, 2012, Google adapted its DoubleClick advertising platform in order to circumvent Safari’s default settings and enable DoubleClick to set third-party cookies, the attorney general said.
“I am disappointed that Google would circumvent consumers’ privacy settings in order to place unwanted tracking files, known as "cookies," Rosenblum said. “People should be able to browse the internet without having advertisers compiling data about them without their permission."
The attorneys general allege that Google’s circumvention of the default privacy settings in Safari violates consumer protection and related computer privacy laws.
The states claim that Google failed to inform Safari users that it was circumventing their privacy settings and that Google’s earlier representation that third-party cookies were blocked for Safari users was misleading.
To settle these allegations, Google agreed to the following terms:
- Google will not deploy the code used to override a browser’s cookie settings without the consumer’s consent, unless necessary to prevent fraud or to address other security or technical issues.
- Google will not misrepresent or omit material information to consumers about how they can use any particular Google product, service, or tool to directly manage how Google serves advertisements to their browsers.
- Google will improve the information it provides to consumers regarding cookies, their purposes, and how they can be managed by consumers using Google’s products or services and tools.
- Google will maintain systems designed to ensure the expiration of the third-party cookies set on Safari browsers while their default settings had been circumvented.
In addition, Google agreed to pay the states $17 million. Of that amount, approximately $300,000 will go to Oregon.
The office of Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Ganser led a 10-state executive committee which obtained this result on behalf of 37 states and the District of Columbia. The Oregon Assurance of Voluntary Compliance was signed Monday.
“Google has a huge internet presence, obviously, and this agreement is a step toward better online privacy controls,” Rosenblum said. “With so much business now conducted on the web, internet privacy has become a critical consumer protection issue.
"People have a right to know where their information is going and how it is being used, commercially and otherwise. I intend to use the power of my office to make the online marketplace safer and more understandable for Oregonians.”