A federal judge has allowed a public interest group to challenge a $22.5 million fine Google agreed to pay earlier this month to settle allegations that it violated a consent decree it reached last year with the Federal Trade Commission related to violations of its privacy policies.
The court ruled Tuesday that Consumer Watchdog, which has long been a thorn in the side of Google, has the right to challenge the $22.5 million penalty. The group must file its challenge by Sept. 21, the judge said.
In announcing the penalty earlier this month, the FTC said Google had violated last year's privacy settlement by bypassing the privacy settings of users of Apple's Safari Internet browser in order to track them for advertising.
Consumer Watchdog blasted the latest settlement as far too low and said Google should be required to admit guilt.
"Google executives want to buy their way out of trouble with what for them is pocket change and then deny doing anything wrong," John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project director, said in a statement. "Allowing this settlement undercuts the entire regulatory process. Companies and their executives must be held accountable when they violate legal agreements."
Google, however, is far from alone in not acknowledging any wrong doing in reaching a deal with regulators. Companies that settle charges with regulators rarely if ever admit to wrongdoing because it could expose them to further legal challenges, legal experts say.
In legal briefs filed with the federal court in San Francisco, neither Google nor the FTC took a position on Consumer Watchdog's motion to challenge the penalty.