Google Reaches $17 Million Privacy Settlement With States

Google Inc. (GOOG) reached a $17 million settlement with 37 U.S. states over its circumvention of privacy settings for some Internet users.

The company, based in Mountain View, California, overrode default settings for Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s Safari browser that blocked cookies, small pieces of code that can allow companies to monitor consumer web surfing, according to the office of the New York attorney general.

Google, owner of the world’s most popular search engine, allowed cookies to be set on consumers’ browsers through its DoubleClick advertising platform, according to the attorney general’s office.

The company halted that coding method in February 2012 after the practice was reported in the media. Google agreed to changes including no longer deploying that type of code unless necessary to address fraud, security or technical issues and improving the information it provides to consumers about its use of cookies, according to the attorney general’s office.

“Consumers should be able to know whether there are other eyes surfing the web with them,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said today in a statement. “By tracking millions of people without their knowledge, Google violated not only their privacy, but also their trust.”

The settlement comprises 37 states and Washington, D.C.

Internet Privacy

“People rely more and more on the Internet to communicate, find information and do business, so it’s critical that companies be straight with consumers when it comes to online privacy,” Roy Cooper, attorney general of North Carolina, which was also part of the settlement, said in a statement.

Statements on Google’s website misled users of Apple’s Safari browser by suggesting that they did not need to install a special plugin to block cookies, the North Carolina attorney general’s office said.

“We work hard to get privacy right at Google and have taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple’s browsers,” a Google spokeswoman, Nadja Blagojevic, said in a statement. “We’re pleased to have worked with the state attorneys general to reach this agreement.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Christie Smythe in Brooklyn, New York, at csmythe1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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