Google Inc. and the Federal Trade Commission came to a settlement over the Safari-tracking scandal that was brought to light back in February of this year. Google is to pay $22.5 million, the largest fine the agency has ever imposed.
“However we do 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,” a Google spokeswoman stated. “We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple’s browsers.”
Aside from that, Google’s declined to give further details about the issue.
The Safari tracking scandal broke last February when the Wall Street Journal published an exposé regarding how Google and other ad companies use a code to bypass Safari’s security measures for tracking users’ browser activities. Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer was the one who found Google’s tracking activities which was confirmed by a technical adviser of WSJ, Ashkan Soltani.
Google denied the allegations but members of Congress urged the FTC to investigate.
Soon after, Microsoft filed a similar claim against Google, alleging the search giant of tracking Internet Explorer activities but Google stated that Microsoft was using outdated standards and their claims were invalid.
Soon thereafter a man from Lawrence, Kansas, also filed a case against Google for illegally obtaining his personal information, conspired to use it for targeted marketing, and for violating the federal Wiretap Act.
Google tried to clarify the issue stating that, “The (Wall Street) Journal mischaracterizes what happened and why. We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. It’s important to stress that these advertising cookies do not collect personal information. We didn’t anticipate that this would happen, and we have now started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers. It’s important to stress that, just as on other browsers, these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.”
But that reasoning wasn’t acceptable, thus the FTC investigation. The original fine was expected at $16,000 per violation, per day, totaling to about $10 million – Google was negotiating with the FTC to lower the fine but obviously, that didn’t happen.