Google says it will cooperate with any Safari privacy investigations

The U.S. FTC and French CNIL are investigating Google's circumvention of the browser's privacy controls, Wall Street Journal says

Google will cooperate with any investigations into allegations that it bypassed privacy settings in Apple's Safari browser, the company said, after a news report that both U.S. and E.U. officials are investigating the company.

A Google spokeswoman declined to confirm any investigations, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, but promised cooperation if there are inquiries.

"We will, of course, cooperate with any officials who have questions," she added. Referring to the circumvention of privacy settings, the spokeswoman noted, "But it's important to remember that we didn't anticipate this would happen, and we have been removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers."

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the French Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés, or CNIL, are investigating the issue, the Journal reported, citing unnamed sources. CNIL has added the Safari issue to an existing E.U. investigation into recent changes of Google's privacy policy, while the FTC is looking into whether the Safari circumvention violates a privacy settlement between the agency and Google, the news report said.

Violations of the FTC's year-old privacy settlement, over Google's blotched rollout of its Buzz social network, could lead to fines of US$16,000 per incident per day.

Representatives of the FTC and CNIL declined to comment on a possible investigation.

CNIL on Monday will post on its website a questionnaire that it send to Google about changes to the companies privacy policy implemented this month, said CNIL spokeswoman Marion Postic. CNIL officials have said the new privacy policy violates European data protection law.

Google has maintained that its circumvention of Safari's privacy controls was accidental. The company used known Safari functionality that signed-in Google users had enabled, said the spokeswoman.

"We created a temporary communication link between Safari browsers and Google's servers, so that we could ascertain whether Safari users were also signed into Google, and had opted for personalized ads and other content," she said. "However, the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser."

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Grant Gross and Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
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