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Google Settling With FTC Over Privacy Breach

18 Jul, 2012 By: Doug McPherson

WASHINGTON – Word is Google is about to pay $22.5 million to get the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) off its back, in a case related to bypassing Apple users’ privacy settings. The Wall Street Journal reports that the fine could be the largest penalty the FTC has ever assessed against a company.

“It offers the latest sign of the FTC’s stepped-up approach to policing online privacy violations,” the WSJ story contends. Insiders say the penalty is a sign the FTC is stepping up its policing of online privacy violations.

The fine is small slice of Google’s 2011’s revenues, but some say it’s another report in a long line of bad publicity for the company that could eventually erode consumers’ trust in the internet giant.

Google allegedly was bypassing the privacy settings on millions of Apple users’ iPhones and computers. The WSJ reports Google disabled its code after the paper contacted the company in February. The FTC contends Google used a computer code to trick Apple’s Safari Web-browsing software into letting it monitor users that had blocked such tracking.

That caused an FTC investigation to find if the company violated a 20-year consent decree it signed with the FTC last October, lawyers involved in the case say. In that agreement, Google said it wouldn’t misrepresent its privacy practices to consumers. The penalty for violating the agreement is $16,000 per violation per day.

Google says the Apple tracking was “inadvertent” and didn’t harm consumers. In a statement, the company adds, “The FTC is focused on a 2009 help center page …. We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies.”

The settlement is awaiting approval by FTC commissioners and could still be altered before it is completed. In 2011, the FTC unveiled privacy recommendations it urged the industry to adopt, including the development of a do-not-track feature in Web browsers. And earlier this year, the online advertising industry dropped its opposition to do-not-track and agreed to support the features in Web browsers by the end of 2012.

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