For Immediate Release - November 18, 2013

Google Inc. to Pay $357,000 to Massachusetts Over Tracking of Consumers Through Safari Web Browser

Company to Pay a Total of $17 Million in Multistate Settlement, Implement Policy Changes Over Setting of Cookies Without Users’ Knowledge or Consent

BOSTON – Google Inc. has agreed to pay more than $357,000 to Massachusetts to settle claims that it misled users of the Safari web browser that its default settings would block Google from placing third-party advertising cookies. It is alleged that Google circumvented the default settings to place the cookies on Safari users’ computers without the knowledge or consent of consumers.

“Consumers have the right to make informed decisions with respect to their privacy online, and those choices should be respected,” AG Coakley said.  “As a result of this settlement, consumers will be able to exercise more meaningful control over how Google sends advertisements to them while online.”

The assurance of discontinuance, filed today in Suffolk Superior Court, was reached by the AG’s Office along with 36 other states and the District of Columbia.

Through its DoubleClick advertising platform, Google can set third-party cookies, which are small files, set in consumers’ browsers. The cookies enable the collection of information about consumers, including their surfing habits, for advertising purposes.

On its webpage, Google offered consumers the chance to “opt out” of receiving the cookies through installing an advertising cookie opt-out plugin, and represented to users of Apple’s Safari that the plugin was unnecessary, because “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.”

However, from June 1, 2011 to Feb. 15, 2012, Google altered its DoubleClick coding to circumvent those default privacy settings on Safari, without consumers’ knowledge or consent.  Google disabled this coding method in February 2012 after the practice was widely reported on the Internet and in the media.

The settlement alleges that Google’s circumvention of the default privacy settings violates consumer protection laws. In order to resolve these allegations, Google has agreed to pay a total of $17 million and has agreed to injunctive relief that requires it to do the following:

  • Not deploy the type of code used 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.

The states involved in the settlement, led by Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

This case was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Shannon Choy-Seymour and Sara Cable, both of Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Consumer Protection Division.