Judge accepts $22.5 million Google fine in Safari privacy case

A consumer rights group had argued the fine was inadequate

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

Consumer Watchdog challenged the agreement, saying the fine was a drop in the ocean compared to Google's annual revenues, which at the time were about $40 billion. And it said the agreement did not prevent it from doing the same thing again.

"Google should feel real pain for its wanton violation," Consumer Watchdog said at the time.

It was supported in its efforts by Reback, a noted attorney who is credited with being the driving force behind the U.S. government's antitrust suit against Microsoft in the 1990s.

Whether Consumer Watchdog will have grounds to appeal Illston's decision will depend on what she writes in her final ruling. The judge did not seem to be very "invested" in the case, Reback told reporters outside the courtroom.

It's difficult to get courts to overturn such settlements, he said. But he said Consumer Watchdog achieved its goal of drawing attention to the use of consent decrees to settle disputes.

The FTC is reportedly preparing to bring an antitrust case against Google, and Reback said another consent decree would be an inadequate outcome of that investigation.

In court Friday, Reback said Google has suggested that IP addresses are not important. They are indeed important, he said -- as evidenced by the scandal that led to the resignation of former CIA Director David Patraeus. That incident came to light after the FBI used IP addresses to track allegedly harassing emails, he noted.

A lawyer for Google argued in court that deleting the tracking data it collected was unnecessary. Google anonymizes the IP addresses associated with the data after nine months, he said. That means the data can no longer be associated with individual users and is of little value, he said.

Google declined to discuss the case and sent a short statement via email: "We're confident that there is no basis for this challenge," the company said.

In its pretrial filings, it argued that the fine is appropriate and that parties are rarely required to admit liability in such settlements. It also says litigating the matter further would be complex and expensive.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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