Google To Pay Record $22.5 Million Fine For Safari Privacy Evasion

By: CNNMoney (Posted by Carissa Fox)
By: CNNMoney (Posted by Carissa Fox)

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- It's official: Google will pay a record $22.5 million fine to settle charges that it skirted the default privacy settings on Apple's Safari browser.

The Federal Trade Commission charged Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) with tracking the recent browsing history Apple's (AAPL, Fortune 500) Safari users and serving them targeted ads. The maneuver violated an earlier privacy settlement between the company and the FTC, according to the agency.

Google's $22.5 million fine is the largest penalty the FTC has ever levied on a single company , but it's still a financial wrist-slap for Google, which earned $2.8 billion last quarter. CNN previously reported on the settlement in July, when a source with knowledge of the situation revealed the then-preliminary deal.

The issue blew up in February, when a privacy researcher exposed that Google had overridden Safari's default settings.

The Safari browser is automatically set to block third-party "cookies," which are files that follow users' movements and log-ins as they travel through the Web. That's a problem for ad networks like Google's, which rely on those cookies to measure their campaigns and to enable some ad functions.

Google's override allowed advertisers to deliver messages customized to users' recent browsing history. Individual users' personal information was never collected. After the discovery in February, Google acknowledged dodging Safari's default settings and immediately disabled the technology.

The dodge caught the attention of the FTC, which has been monitoring Google's compliance with its privacy promises under the terms of a settlement deal finalized in October.

The October deal stemmed from Google's problems with Google Buzz, an early social-networking effort that violated the company's written privacy policies. Google agreed to undergo regular, independent privacy audits and to pay penalties of up to $16,000 per individual violation for any future privacy missteps.

The Safari kerfuffle counted -- so Google will have to pay up.


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