FTC Slams Google for $22.5 Million over GAN Affiliate Tracking in Safari
The Federal Trade Commission has slammed Google a fine attuned to $22.5 million, the largest ever, due to the Big G’s privacy abuse within the Safari web browser.
According to Forbes (and WSJ), the fine stems from a work around imposed by Google engineers that allowed aspects of Google+, the +1 button, and cookies to be added to Safari which had been blocked by the built in privacy settings by Apple.
Techcrunch has covered the exploit: “Google’s (DoubleClick’s, technically, but ultimately it’s Google’s) special cookie dispenser, however, would detect that Safari was being used, and “fill out” a form element on the client side, sending that out instead of a plain request.”
As a rebuttal, Google has claimed the incident to be an accident, stating “We didn’t anticipate that this would happen, and we have now started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers. It’s important to stress that, just as on other browsers, these advertising cookies do not collect personal information”
Despite the $22.5 million fine, it doesn’t add up much to the overall earnings of Google so one may ask, what’s the point of it all? Essentially it does because Google and Facebook will have, in essence, a ‘probation’ officer that the companies will be reporting to in issues of privacy.
The Fallout on Affiliates
In an interesting point of view, by Chris Trayhorn of mThink, Google has been proactive with their Safari tracking work around and had stopped this exploit since February. What this means: affiliates that had been using the Google Affiliate Network, gaining leads from Safari, could essentially see their earnings not be dispensed because much of the data was not tracked.
The loss of commissions may be, in some ways, reimbursed after a statement from GAN:
“To estimate unattributed conversions, we used available data to attribute Safari conversions to clicks. We then calculated publisher fees using the prevailing commission rate at the time of the event and finally added 5% to account for any margin of error. We plan on using the same methodology to estimate conversion data for Safari traffic until the current situation is resolved.”
It sounds good intentioned but this is a major blow for those using the affiliate network. We may be seeing potential sanctions levied toward Google for other implications such as placing a higher value on their own products in search.
For a company that states “Don’t be Evil”, Google has sure displayed different colors within the last few years. The issue of privacy will continue to be one of the biggest issues the web (and affiliates) shall be facing as big data comes into fruition.
What are your thoughts about this fine and Google’s circumvention of user privacy?