The FCC has fined Google $22.5 million dollars for willfully violating the privacy of millions of people, after it had promised to stop doing almost exactly the same thing in another context:
David Vladeck, who leads the agency’s consumer protection bureau, defended the penalty. “$22.5 million may not seem like a lot of money to Google,” he said in a conference call with reporters last week. “But we think it’s quite a substantial civil penalty … We hope this sends a clear message.”
We dug up some numbers for comparison to the Google penalty:
It’s 0.1 percent of Google CEO Larry Page’s net worth, according to Forbes.
It would take about five hours for the company to bring in that amount, based on sales from the most recent quarter.
It’s less than the gain Google’s stock saw Thursday, the day the FTC announced the settlement. Google added $39.2 million to its market capitalization that day.
(via Pro Publica)
So, to put it in numbers we can wrap our heads around, Google had to pay almost one quarter of its gross daily income for willfully violating the privacy rights of millions. One thing we don’t know: How much did Google make violating those rights, and by how much did that number exceed the fine? I.e., how much did it profit from its illegal behavior, even taking the fine into account? Did this penalty, in fact, echo the oft-sent “clear message” to corporate America that the costs of illegal behavior are dwarfed by the profits to be made before you are caught?
The fine is a joke, something the FCC and Google can get away with only because most people’s heads swim when large numbers are involved, and $22 million seems like a lot. (See here for Dean Baker's take down of a social security scare story, which also relies on big numbers to deceive.)
But lest we lose all hope, just remember that the American system of justice is more than capable of meting out retributive justice when it is truly deserved. Just consider Joel Tenenbaum and Jammie Thomas-Rasset, both of whom illegally downloaded almost dozens of songs, for which, according to the Google standard of one quarter of daily gross income we might expect them to be fined a whopping $100.00 or so. But no, true justice prevailed in these cases:
Without commenting on the merits of the case, the Supreme Court this morning let stand a $675,000 jury verdict against a 25-year-old Boston University student who downloaded 30 songs nearly a decade ago and then shared them with others on a peer-to-peer network.
The court denied Joel Tenenbaum's “write [sic] of certiorari” which means his appeal of a lower court's ruling and the judgment were turned down.
A new lawyer, a new jury, and a new trial were not enough to save Jammie Thomas-Rasset. In a repeat of the verdict from her first federal trial, Thomas-Rasset was found liable for willfully infringing all 24 copyrights controlled by the four major record labels at issue in the case. The jury awarded the labels damages totaling a whopping $1.92 million. As the dollar amount was read in court, Thomas-Rasset gasped and her eyes widened.
(via Ars Technica)
So you see, despite the fact that the actual damages suffered in both of the above cases probably could have been covered by one quarter of the daily gross income of the respective defendants, the American system of justice pulled through.
To paraphrase Mel Brooks “It’s good to be the Google”.