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 Apples Safari Web browser. While $22.5 million is a record fine for the FTC, its a drop in the bucket that wont 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 Jacksons 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 hadnt been replayed a million times in slow motion. It hardly seems worthy of any attention.
The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) apparently didnt 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 its 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 its OK to air graphic violence, and a wide variety of material that I wouldnt want my teens to see, but a second of nudity is somehow a heinous violation that needs to be aggressively pursued. But, thats 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 couldnt 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, its 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 dont 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.