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November 16, 2012

Judge Questions Proposed Google-FTC Settlement

Posted in: Uncategorized

petraeus

Google claims IP addresses aren't important. Tell that to David Petraeus....

Judge Susan Illston said in court today that she had questions about provisions of the proposed FTC settlement with Google which allows them to retain and profit from the data they collected by hacking Apple’s Safari browser.

In 2011 Google was caught circumventing privacy protections in order to place tracking cookies on the computers of up to 190 million Safari users worldwide, contrary to what they claimed in their privacy policy.

Consumer Watchdog is challenging the settlement, which also includes a record fine of $22.5 million and allows Google to deny liability.

Judge Illston waved off most of their concerns about the size of the settlement and the admission of guilt, and said “my preliminary view is to grant the request to approve the order.”

She then asked lawyers for both sides about provisions in the settlement that allow Google to retain the hacked data.

“The Commission considers Consumer Watchdog’s concern to be unlikely, because old data is of negative value”  said the FTC counsel Adrienne Fowler, who maintained that Google anonymizes IP addresses after nine months and can no longer associate it with individual users, rendering the data useless.

Consumer Watchdog was represented by Gary Reback, the well-known Silicon Valley antitrust attorney, who challenged the notion that the data had no value:

Reback said Google has suggested that IP addresses are not important. They are indeed important, he said—as evidenced by the scandal that led to the resignation of former CIA Director David Petraeus. That incident came to light after the FBI used IP addresses to track allegedly harassing emails, he noted.

Illston could refuse to approve the settlement (unlikely), approve it as-is or approve it conditionally, requiring Google to meet stipulations like deleting the ill-gotten data.

According to Megan Geuss of Ars Technica, Reback feels he achieved at least one of his goals in the hearing by forcing Google and the FTC to publicly hold hands:

“I wanted a courtroom where the government and Google were at the same table, hand in hand, and somebody is challenging them,” Reback said. “Because when I did the Microsoft case, that was the turning point. When the government had to sit at the same table with Microsoft and defend them… I wanted the commissioners to feel the cosmetics if you will, the presence of the government defending Google’s conduct in litigating against a consumer protection agency. I wanted to know if they feel proud of that.”

Google watchers were following the proceedings closely for hints as to how the FTC will deal with the internet behemoth in its current antitrust investigation.  Reback claims that “it implicates the procedure that will be used to resolve the antitrust case…A consent decree will be weak, it won’t really make Google do anything.”


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