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Google's Mounting Violations Make Case For Broad Changes to Search Giant's Practices

Google is reportedly close to paying a $22.5 million fine to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission – the largest penalty ever levied by the agency – for disregarding the privacy settings of millions of consumers.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Google bypassed the privacy settings of consumers using Apple Inc.’s Safari Web browser on iPhones and computers. The Internet search and advertising behemoth disabled the code that bypassed the settings after being confronted about the issue by the Journal in February, when the venerable business publication did a series of stories on Google’s dubious privacy practices.

Company officials said the tracking was “inadvertent and didn’t cause any harm to consumers.” This news is yet another example of how the Internet giant abuses its market dominance to the detriment of consumers and in defiance of existing laws in the U.S., the EU and other nations such as South Korea, and reportedly, now India, whose competition authorities are investigating serious allegations that Google’s business practices violate consumer protection and competition laws.

Yesterday, The Times of India reported the Competition Commission of India has begun to investigate Google’s anti-competitive practices. And while the FTC has taken numerous actions against Google, the agency recently hired a former federal prosecutor to lead its investigation of Google’s practices for potential violations of existing antitrust and consumer protection laws.

As the Journal noted, just last October Google signed a 20-year consent decree with the FTC  to not misrepresent its privacy practices to consumers, and also last year Google reached a $500 million settlement with the U.S. Justice Department for promoting unlawful sales of prescription drugs. In 2010, Google, yet again, “inadvertently” violated consumers’ privacy by collecting private communications as part of its Wi-Fi data collection using Street View cars. This spring, the Federal Communications Commission fined Google $25,000 for obstructing its Street View investigation.

The laundry list of violations of consumer rights and Google’s legal obligations goes on, even as competition officials around the world look closely at Google’s practices. The European Commission, U.S. state attorneys general and competition officials around the world are reviewing how Google’s practices harm consumers and innovators on the Internet. It is crucial for these agencies and officials to use existing laws to ensure Google is not abusing its dominance in ways that undermine innovation on the Internet simply to push Google’s own business interests and preserve its monopoly power on the Internet.