The Wall Street Journal is reporting that “Google is close to a deal to pay $22.5 million to settle charges related to its surreptitious bypassing of the privacy settings of millions of Apple users.” Observers expect the fine will be the biggest penalty ever levied on a single company by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. It offers the latest proof of the agency’s intensified approach to policing online privacy violations, coming just six months after the Journal first reported on Google’s practices.
CNet notes that, “in a practice it has since ceased, Google used special code to get around Safari’s privacy controls, allowing the company to track users on computers and mobile devices.” The company previously acknowledged that it has used known functionality in Safari to provide features that Google users had enabled. The FTC has reportedly been investigating whether Google’s action violated a 2011 settlement agreement between the agency and the company over privacy concerns related to the launch of Google Buzz. “That settlement required Google to ‘obtain express affirmative consent’ from users — opt-in, in other words — any time it proposes any ‘additional sharing’ of certain types of user information,” the publication adds.
ZDNet adds that “the fine itself results from the fact that — just months before it was caught out sneaking its cookies past browsers’ security settings — Google had signed a 20-year decree with the FTC pledging to be honest and open about its privacy practices.” That agreement indeed followed a highly publicized scandal over Google Buzz, which broadcast a number of users’ private information without them realizing it.