Google has settled its US legal woes over allowing third-party tracking of Safari users without their knowledge and consent for the relatively paltry amount of $17m, to be shared among 37 states and the District of Columbia – aka Washington DC. The settlement [PDF] states that between June 1, 2011, and February 15, 2012 Google …
Don't worry about these cookie things, they're just like Big Brother used to bake them.
"We work hard to get privacy right at Google"
...and even harder at this kind of P.R. arse-gravy, apparently.
"doesn't admit wrongdoing in the settlement"
Not specific to this case, but I have to laugh when defendants settle then claim they don't admit any wrongdoing. If they didn't do anything wrong, then why settle?
By settling, they're sending the message that either a) they're guilty, making the "no wrongdoing" claim farcical, or b) they've been bullied into submission, and therefore the justice system is farcical, or worse, more akin to racketeering.
Personally I think out of court "settlements" should be honestly recognised for what they really are: legalised bribery and extortion, and should be outlawed. If you have a claim, then prove it, or shut up ... then go to prison for making a fraudulent claim.
As it stands, the American system of "justice" is nothing but a (rich) opportunist's wet-dream.
"If you have a claim, then prove it or shut up"
Unfortunately, laws are not and cannot be written in a way which defines clearly and exactly what is and what is not legal. There are always grey areas, corner cases. The only way to determine whether something is "legal" or not is often to wait until the end of a lengthy trial; and the worst is that the outcome depends on which side has the best lawyers! This sounds ridiculous, especially to scientists and IT people who live in a world defined by clear rules, in which claims can indeed be "proven". But nobody has invented a better system yet.
In those circumstances, this kind of settlements save a lot of time. It sends the message that what they did was probably wrong, and that anybody doing this will have to pay for it one way or another.
Re: "doesn't admit wrongdoing in the settlement"
Hmm, they discovered / used a zero day flaw in Safari to illegaly place cookies on people's devices, even if they had set the option for no tracking cookies (the default in fact).
They didn't inform Apple about the exploit (because it would stop them using it to get tracking information), going against their own best practice of working with other companies to fix security holes - it looks like it is best practice, when Google can't gain anything from it.
They broke data privacy legislation around the world...
No, they didn't do anything wrong. The caveat on their mission statement (do no evil) must be longer than the T&Cs on Apple's iTines by now...
Oh, and they stated earlier this year that the similar case in the UK doesn't affect them:
"Google is also facing a similar lawsuit in the UK over the same issue, as well as an investigation by the Information Commissioner's Office.
The company wouldn't comment on the UK proceedings, but said earlier this year that it was not subject to British privacy laws and that it wasn't answerable for the case. The law firm enlisted for the case, Olswang, has not responded to a request for comment. " (from PC Pro)
I keep seeing Eric Schmidt sitting in a court room and he keeps turning into Jack Nicholson and doing a Nathan R Jessup... :-D
Re: "doesn't admit wrongdoing in the settlement"
Let's say you walk past someone else's car. There is video footage that appears to show that you were very close to it. Perhaps close enough to have caused a big scratch in it's paint. The car owner files a lawsuit against you to have their car repainted. However, you didn't touch it at all.
You're lawyer tells you that it will cost $10,000 to defend against the lawsuit. However, the car owner is willing to settle for $500 (cost of repainting). Even if you decide to fight it, the evidence is enough that it's hard to tell which way a jury would go.
What do you do?
The financial answer is that you settle while not admitting guilt. To do otherwise will simply cost you a lot more money for zero gain.
Now, same situation only you in fact did scratch the car and know it. Not only that, you scratched two other cars on the same street.
Again, the answer is you settle without admitting guilt. If you admit guilt then you make it easier for the other guys to sue you, and their lawyers will tell them not to settle as other damages can be applied in the case.
From a business perspective, you might very well have employees that did something which wasn't acceptable to you. However, that code goes into production and you, the business owner, is sued for it. You'd love to tell them it's not the business's fault rather it's this "rogue" employee, but the fact is the employee works (probably past tense now) for you. In order to limit the financial damages you settle, don't admit fault, and make as sure as possible that the problem is resolved to everyone's satisfaction.
To do otherwise would open your company up to a huge number of lawsuits costing probably far more than would be warranted for the transgression.
Re: "[justice will] cost you a lot more money for zero gain"
Personally I think justice is a far bigger gain than mere money, and I would in fact pursue the case relentlessly until justice was served, money be damned.
However you're right in that, sadly, the only way to achieve justice in a capitalist judicial system is to buy it, and those who can't afford to do so have no legal recourse.
This could easily be remedied by legislating that all claimants must pay the defendant's legal expenses in advance, and they will only be able to recover them in the event of winning the case. That would also be a disincentive for settling out of court (i.e. extortion), as they'd forfeit those expenses, although frankly I think "extra-legal" measures of all kinds, including out of court settlements, should simply be abolished.
"By tracking millions of people without their knowledge, Google violated not only their privacy, but also their trust"
It's not only Google doing that now is it!
I am curious if this might have any potential effect on all those companies that said they would ignore any "Don't Track Me" settings within browsers?
Why only the US
Why is it only consumers in the US benefit from these decisions, are we not violated by their actions as much as their american customers.
If we are not covered by their action then why is there not an equivalent organisation in the UK looking after our interests and pursuing similar claims?
Re: Why only the US
Who said the consumer benefits from this? All the money will go to lawyers, any remnant will go to a consumer NGO, conveniently run by lawyer's OHs.
"Working hard to get privacy right,"
Snooping is annoying but what really ended Google as having any utility was sponsored search results. How can a search engine be accurate if the results can be fiddled ?
The outcome is that my bro needed a hotel to stay in near me and any attempt to search on Google was rendered slower by pointless scads of ads from the likes of Trivago.
I've dumped Google as default and replaced it with DuckDuckGo.