Google to pay $17 million for tracking users of Safari browser

Google will pay North Carolina and 37 other states $17 million for misleading some consumers over the tracking of their activity online.

The settlement stems from allegations that Google misled users of Apple’s Safari browser in 2011 and 2012 about how to opt out from having third-party advertising cookies set on their browsers.

According to the state Attorney General’s office, Google offered consumers a way to opt out by installing a special plug-in. But statements on Google’s website misled Safari users by suggesting that they did not need to install the plug-in because the brower’s default settings automatically blocked third-party cookies.

From June 2, 2011 until Feb. 15, 2012, Google altered coding on its DoubleClick advertising platform to bypass the default settings on Safari. The coding was later disabled after the practice was widely reported in the media.

As part of the settlement, Google has agreed to not use the type of code used to override the browser’s cookie-blocking settings without consumer’s consent, unless it is necessary to deal with fraud, security or technical issues.

North Carolina will receive $427,854.86 as part of the settlement. The money will be used for consumer protection efforts.

“People rely more and more on the Internet to communicate, find information, and do business, so it’s critical that companies be straight with consumers when it comes to online privacy,” state Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a statement.