August 10, 2012
FTC Bags Big Game On Safari Hunt: Google Agrees To Pay $22.5 Million Fine — The Largest Fine the FTC Has Levied For Breaking an Agency Agreement — for "Misleading Consumers About Privacy Practices" As a Result of Tracking Activity on Apple's Safari Browser
Google is paying a record $22.5 million fine to settle allegations that it broke a privacy promise by secretly tracking millions of Web surfers who use Apple's Safari browser. The penalty announced last week by the Federal Trade Commission matches the figure that the AP and other media outlets had reported last month — and it's the largest fine that the FTC has imposed against a company for violating a previous agreement with the agency. To settle a previous case, Google had signed a 20-year agreement that, among other things, included a company pledge not to mislead consumers about its privacy practices. The FTC opened its investigation after a researcher at Stanford University revealed that Google had overridden Safari privacy settings, but Google isn't admitting any wrongdoing, an AP news release reports. The agency determined that Google "placed an advertising tracking cookie on the computers of Safari users who visited sites within Google's DoubleClick advertising network." The issue, the FTC said, is that Google had assured those users that they would be automatically opted out of the tracking because of Safari's handling of third-party cookies, CNET reports.
"The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order," Jon Leibowitz, the commission's chairman, said today in a statement. "No matter how big or small, all companies must abide by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promises to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place," he added, CNET reports.
For its part, Google said that it takes privacy very seriously, and has set in motion the removal of the advertising cookies. "We set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users," a Google spokesman said in a statement. "The FTC is focused on a 2009 help center page published more than two years before our consent decree, and a year before Apple changed its cookie-handling policy. We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple's browsers," the statement continued, reports CNET writer Don Reisinger.