PROVIDENCE – Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin announced Monday that Rhode Island will receive $230,000 as its share of a multistate settlement with Google Inc. concerning its alleged practice of tracking its users’ browsing histories without their consent.
Thirty-six other states and the District of Columbia will receive payouts totaling $17 million from the settlement concerning Google’s enabling of third-party tracking cookies on certain Safari Web browsers in 2011 and 2012.
“Google has the ability to track our online purchases and page views, allowing third parties to target content to specific consumers based on perceived interest and buying habits,” said Kilmartin in a statement. “Consumers should feel confident that if they ‘opt out’ of these types of functions, they are truly opting out and limiting their exposure to who has access to their Web history.”
Since the use of its Internet search engine is free, Google generates revenue primarily through advertising. Through its DoubleClick advertising platform, Google sets third-party cookies – small files set in consumers’ Web browsers – that enable the company to gather information about those consumers’ Web-surfing and purchasing habits. Apple’s Safari Web browser is set by default to block third-party cookies, including cookies set by DoubleClick.
According to a release from Kilmartin’s office, Google offered its users the choice to opt out of having third-party advertising cookies set on their browsers through the installation of an advertising cookie opt-out plug-in.
On its webpage describing the opt-out plug-in, Google stated that “Safari is set by default to block all third-party cookies. If you have not changed those settings, this option effectively accomplishes the same thing as setting the opt-out cookie.”
The states involved in the lawsuit against Google allege that Google later altered its DoubleClick coding to circumvent the Safari browser’s default privacy settings without consumers’ knowledge or consent, and that the statement on the plug-in Web page misled Safari users by suggesting they would not receive third-party cookies.
Google allegedly used the coding method to circumvent Safari’s default settings between June 1, 2011, and Feb. 15, 2012, when the company disabled the coding method following the wide reporting of the practice on the Internet and in the media.
The attorneys general of 37 states and the District of Columbia allege that Google’s circumvention of the default privacy settings in Safari for blocking third-party cookies violated state consumer-protection and related computer-privacy laws.
In addition to the $17 million monetary payout, the settlement also requires Google to:
- Not deploy the type of code used here to override a browser’s cookie blocking settings without the consumer’s consent, unless it is necessary to do so in order to detect, prevent or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues.
- 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.
- 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.
- Maintain systems designed to ensure the expiration of the third-party cookies set on Safari Web browsers while their default settings had been circumvented.