FTC Uses Google Settlement to Warn Others

Using the $22.5 million Google settlement as a poster child for (allegedly) bad behavior, Federal Trade Commission attorney Leslie Fair issued a warning yesterday through her blog to companies with online privacy policies - make sure your practices are consistent with your policies.

Fair cited several allegations the FTC made against Google that led to the settlement.

User Privacy Settings

The FTC alleged that Google made misrepresentations on its Advertising Cookie Opt-Out Plug-in page. It claims that Google worked around the Safari browser's default advertising "opt out" setting by tracking Safari users online and sending them targeted ads, despite telling users that leaving the default setting alone would block such ads.

The lesson for others? Make sure you know not just what your privacy policy says, but what your company is telling users throughout your interface about how the choices you offer them (e.g., opting in or out of various services) will affect their privacy. And make sure you actually do what you say you'll do.

Voluntary Trade Groups

The FTC also alleged that Google did not comply with requirements for membership in the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), a voluntary self-regulatory group for the online ad industry.

According to the FTC, Google advertised that it was a member of the NAI, but did not truthfully disclose what it was doing with the data of Safari web browser users. So, she warns business to live up to the codes of conduct for voluntary self-regulatory groups that you join.