FTC Fines Google $22.5M in Safari Cookie Tracking Case: Report

The Federal Trade Commission has approved a consent decree under which it will fine Google $22.5 million for allegations that the search giant bypassed Safari privacy settings that blocked user tracking cookies. However, Google will not have to admit liability in the case, according to media reports.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reached agreement with Google on the terms of a consent decree that will levy a $22.5 million fine against Google for bypassing the privacy settings of Apple's Safari browser, according to reports.

The decree will allow Google to settle with the commission without admitting any liability, Reuters reported. The official announcement is expected within days.

The case was the result of allegations earlier this year that Google used code to bypass Safari privacy settings that blocked user tracking cookies by default. The code enabled the browser to accept cookies. Google disabled the code soon after reports of the issue surfaced, stating at the time the situation was unintentional and that the ad cookies did not collect personal information.

The company also changed a page in its help center that provided inaccurate information to Safari users about cookies.

A Google spokesperson declined to discuss the specifics of the situation with eWEEK. However, the company reiterated its commitment to the "highest standards of privacy and security for [its] users."

According to the spokesperson, "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 spokesperson said.

If the FTC publishes consent decree as described, the $22.5 million fine will be just the latest entry in a long list of privacy battles between Google and government regulators. In 2011, Google settled with FTC regarding privacy complaints about its Google Buzz social network. As part of that settlement, Google agreed to adopt a privacy program as well as submit to an independent privacy audit every other year for the next two decades.

In April, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined Google $25,000 after finding the company "deliberately impeded and delayed" an investigation into how it collected data for Google StreetView, a technology featured in Google Maps and Google Earth that provides a panoramic view from positions on streets across the world. After the FCC fine, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) wrote a letter to the U.S. Attorney General€™s Office requesting an investigation into Google to determine if any laws had been broken.