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Google Writes $22.5 Million Check to FTC

15 Aug, 2012 By: Doug McPherson

WASHINGTON – Google Inc. had to pull out its checkbook to pay the largest fine ever levied by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC): $22.5 million that will apparently settle allegations that it breached Apple’s Safari Internet browser. This is an FTC first for an Internet privacy violation. But it may not be last because the Commission has warned it’s beefing up enforcement of consumers’ online rights.

The FTC says Google tricked consumers and violated terms of a consent decree it signed with the FTC in 2011 when it put cookies on Safari – a move that let the company bypass Apple software’s privacy settings and track consumers’ Internet-browsing behavior.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz says the fine “sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order ... (and) all companies must abide by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promises to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place.”

Accusations have plagued Google about the way it handles personal information. But, Google says it still has no fault in agreeing to the settlement.

In a statement, Google contends, “We set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users. 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.”

John Simpson, privacy project director for Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group, told Advertising Age he believes the fine is “woefully insufficient.” He added, “The commission has allowed Google to buy its way out of trouble for an amount that probably is less than the company spends on lunches for its employees and with no admission it did anything wrong.”

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