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FTC Charges Google, Myspace with Internet Privacy Violations

The Federal Trade Commission has accused the social networking website Myspace of providing user data to third parties without user consent while Google will likely receive the first ever FTC fine for Internet privacy violations after planting cookies that bypassed Apple’s Safari web browser’s privacy settings.

The FTC is accusing Myspace of violating their own privacy policy which stated it would not share users’ personally identifiable information with third parties unless permission had been given to do so. The FTC claims that from January 2009 to June 2010 and again from October 2010 to October 2011 Myspace transmitted user information to third party ad networks to include internal identifiers of Myspace users, their ages and their genders. Myspace was sold by News Corporation in June 2011 to Specific Media who settled with the FTC on the internet privacy charges saying they wanted to put “Myspace’s pre-acquisition practices behind us.” As a result of this Myspace will be required to obey their stated privacy policies, establish comprehensive privacy controls and provide audits every other year for the next twenty years.

The Federal Trade Commission also alleges that Google violated consumer privacy by using cookies that allowed Google to bypass the privacy protections used in Apple’s Safari web browser to enable targeted advertising at Safari users. The FTC first accused Google of deceptive tactics and violating their own privacy policies in 2010 when they launched Google Buzz, which is now defunct. Similar to Myspace, Google signed a consent decree with the FTC admitting to these allegations and agreed to a twenty year settlement where they must follow their privacy policies and not misrepresent what is done with user information. The FTC now alleges that the cookies used to bypass Safari’s privacy settings and collect information for targeted advertising is violation of this consent decree which will result in a fine which the FTC and Google are now negotiating. The FTC can fine up to $16,000 per day per violation of a consent decree, but an unnamed source said the fine could amount to more than $10 million. This would mark the first incidence of an FTC fine for internet privacy violations.

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