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Google to pay Md. $1M over privacy breach allegations

Google will pay the Maryland state government $1 million as part of a $17 million, 37-state settlement for collecting information on consumers' Internet browsing activity without their consent.

The data was gathered from iPhone and iPad users despite a default privacy setting on the devices' Safari browser preventing the use of "cookies," small files that track browsing activity. Google's advertising network circumvented the policy from June 1, 2011, through Feb. 15, 2012, until it was reported in the media.

Maryland helped lead the multistate investigation resulting in the settlement, which also requires Google to stop using the type of code that overrides users' privacy settings and to explain more about how it uses cookies.

"Given the many, often undetectable ways personal information can be collected and shared online, consumers need to be able to trust that their privacy preferences will be honored," said Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler in a statement. "Internet companies must keep their privacy promises so that consumers can navigate the Internet on their own terms."

Google officials said they have made changes to their advertising technology.

"We work hard to get privacy right at Google and have taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple's browsers," wrote Google spokeswoman Nadja Blagojevic in an email. "We're pleased to have worked with the state attorneys general to reach this agreement."

The settlement money will go to the state's general fund in the form of a civil penalty, and will not be passed along to consumers whose browsing information may have been tracked, said Alan Brody, a spokesman for the consumer protection division of the state attorney general's office.

But "there is nothing preventing consumers from filing their own action," he added.

The agreement follows a $22 million settlement Google reached with the Federal Trade Commission in August 2012 over the same matter.

Maryland led a 10-state executive committee that held settlement discussions with Google.

An Internet privacy unit created within the attorney general's office in January has increased the state's focus on such issues, Brody said. The unit is responsible for airing concerns over changes to Google's user privacy policies and proposing state legislation that would tighten online privacy protections for children.

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