The Federal Trade Commission today announced a $22.5 million fine against Google for circumventing settings on Safari Internet browsers and planting advertising cookies without user consent — a subject we wrote about in June.
The size of the fine — a record amount for an FTC privacy case — had been reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal, so the settlement was no surprise. But in a conference call with reporters, senior FTC official David Vladeck once again criticized our story, which was co-published with Wired and focused on whether the agency had adequate means to aggressively police online privacy.
“There was almost nothing in the Wired article that was correct,” Vladeck said. The FTC did not take our questions during the call; we already have addressed the agency’s specific criticisms at length.
Among other things, our story reported that Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer had scooped the FTC by discovering how the Google cookies worked, then publishing the findings on his blog the same day — Feb. 17 — on whichThe Wall Street Journal wrote that Mayer had spotted them.The FTC disputed that it had been scooped, but the agency declined to say what it knew before Mayer. Officials previously said they were unable to comment because that might reveal whether there was an investigation.
Today, Vladeck said, “We were investigating this well before there was any publication in The Wall Street Journal or otherwise.” Separately, the FTC pointed to a blog post today by Ed Felten, the agency’s outgoing chief technologist. Felten wrote that in mid-December of 2011, he recorded a Google file that could override a Safari user’s controls.