Google faces record fine over Safari privacy breach

By Peter Gothard
11 Jul 2012 View Comments

The US Federal Trade Commission is poised to slap Google with a $22.5m (£14.5m) fine following  complaints from Apple about misuse of privacy options in the Safari web browser.

Google had been accused of writing cookie code specifically to overrule Safari's built-in user options to disable tracking, effectively allowing Google to keep on collecting information on Apple web browser users against their stated permission.

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If given final approval by the FTC's five commissioners, the fine will be the largest penalty imposed on a single company by the FTC in history, far exceeding ChoicePoint Inc.'s 2006 fine of $15m.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Google's Safari shenanigans began when it discovered that Apple's cookie blocking made an exception for "interactive" forms of data collection.

Google then allegedly inserted fake form code into non-interactive pages in order to make Safari believe it was dealing with interactive data even when it wasn't. Google has since said no personal information was ever collected.

In a statement on the fine, Google said: "The FTC is focused on a 2009 help center page published more than two years before our consent decree. We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple's browsers."

It is believed that Google could face similar action from other countries, and a wider FTC antitrust investigation due to accusations of manipulating Google search results to favour the company's own products.

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