Internet giant Google has agreed to pay $22.5 million as fine to settle charges that it violated the default privacy norms of the Apple’s web browser, Safari, the US federal regulators have said.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had charged that Google misrepresented to the users of Safari that it would not place tracking “cookies” or serve targeted ads to those users, violating an earlier privacy settlement between the company and the FTC.

The settlement is part of the FTC’s ongoing efforts to make sure companies live up to the privacy promises they make to consumers, and is the largest penalty the agency has ever obtained for violation of a commission order.

In addition to the civil penalty, the order also requires Google to disable all the tracking cookies it had said it would not place on consumers’ computers.

“The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order,” said Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC.

In its complaint, the FTC charged that for several months in 2011 and 2012, Google placed a certain advertising tracking cookie on the computers of Safari users who visited sites within Google’s DoubleClick advertising network, although Google had previously told these users they would automatically be opted out of such tracking, as a result of the default settings of the Safari browser used in Macs, iPhones and iPads.

According to the FTC’s complaint, Google specifically told Safari users that because the Safari browser is set by default to block third-party cookies, as long as users do not change their browser settings, this setting “effectively accomplishes the same thing as [opting out of this particular Google advertising tracking cookie].”

(This article was published on August 10, 2012)
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