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Google to pay largest FTC penalty ever for privacy violations

 

Google is close to a deal to pay $22.5 million to settle charges related to its surreptitious bypassing of the privacy settings of millions of Apple users, according to officials briefed on the settlement terms.

The fine is expected to be the largest penalty ever levied on a single company by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. It offers the latest sign of the FTC's stepped-up approach to policing online privacy violations, coming just six months after The Wall Street Journal reported on Google's practices.

While the fine likely will represent only a tiny portion of Google's revenues—last year, the Internet giant raked in that much cash roughly every five hours or so—it counts among a series of negative reports about Google's privacy practices that could undermine users' trust in its services.

The current charges involve Google's use of special computer code to trick Apple's Safari Web-browsing software into letting it monitor users that had blocked such tracking. Google disabled the code after being contacted by the Journal, which wrote about Google's practices in February.

Google officials say tracking of Apple users was inadvertent and didn't cause any harm to consumers. But Google's actions appeared to contradict previous statements it had made assuring Apple users that they could rely on Safari's privacy settings to block unwanted tracking.

Google said in a statement, "The FTC is focused on a 2009 help center page.…We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies," referring to the small computer files that can enable tracking of people's online activities.

An FTC spokeswoman declined to comment.

For more on the record settlement Google faces, see The Wall Street Journal.