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By Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP/E, CIPP/US

Within hours of announcing that Google had agreed to pay a $22.5 million fine to settle charges it bypassed Apple Safari privacy settings, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took to social media to answer questions from varying sides of the privacy debate.

Through Twitter and Facebook, the FTC publicly answered questions from those interested in the largest civil penalty in the agency’s history.

And not everyone supported the settlement.

Some echoed concerns expressed by FTC Commissioner Thomas Rosch’s dissenting statement. The FTC alleged that Google’s use of cookies on Safari browsers deceived consumers and violated its consent decree and in its settlement allowed the company to not admit liability.

“This scenario—violation of a consent order,” wrote Rosch, “makes the commission’s acceptance of Google’s denial of liability all the more inexplicable.”

TechFreedom President Berin Szoka tweeted, “How can msg sent be ‘clear’ when there’s not admission of liability or explanation of violation or fine?”

Megan Gray and Megan Bartley, both from the FTC’s Division of Enforcement, tweeted in reply, “Is there any ambiguity that FTC acted vigorously 2 enforce its order? What’s impt is actions not words; $22.5M is loud.”

Several questioned how the fine could be justified, while others wondered whether the fine appropriately acts as a deterrent to a company that makes billions of dollars a year in profit.

One participant asked the FTC what impact the settlement may have on the web industry. Through Twitter, the FTC responded, “We want the web industry to abide by the promises it makes to its customers.”  

Justin Brookman, director of the Center for Democracy & Technology’s (CDT) Project on Consumer Privacy, voiced support for the agency’s decision.

In a CDT press release, Brookman said, “The action demonstrates the FTC is a champion for consumer privacy rights,” adding, “It’s especially impressive that the FTC moved so quickly to reach its largest settlement in history.”

Calling it a “pyrrhic victory for privacy,” Szoka and International Center for Law & Economics Executive Director Geoffrey Manne took a much different stance, writing in their own release, “Such arbitrary regulation-by-settlement undermines the rule of law and harms consumers by deterring privacy disclosures.”

The ringing disagreements and vociferous dialogue during Thursday’s social media chats indicated the FTC’s participation in these Web 2.0 platforms provides a forum for those interested in discussing and influencing the debate about the government’s role in privacy protection. Additionally, after hosting a media-only teleconference, the FTC’s participation on Twitter and Facebook allowed individuals to take part in the discussion.

Thanking the FTC, one Twitter user concluded, “We non-journalists truly appreciate the access.” 

Read more by Jedidiah Bracy:

Building Trustworthy Customer Relationships in the Digital Age
A Q&A with Hong Kong Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data Allan Chiang
Assessing public information in the digital age


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