FTC hits Google with $22.5 million fine for Safari tracking

It's the largest penalty ever for a violation of an FTC order. The agency says that "sends a clear message" to all companies large and small to "keep their privacy promises to consumers."

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

The Federal Trade Commission has jabbed Google with a hefty fine over its alleged Safari tracking practices.

The government agency today announced that Google has agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle the FTC's charges that Google "placed an advertising tracking cookie on the computers of Safari users who visited sites within Google's DoubleClick advertising network." The issue, the FTC said, is that Google had assured those users that they would be automatically opted out of the tracking because of Safari's handling of third-party cookies.

The FTC's fine is the largest ever for violation of the agency's order.

"The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order," Jon Leibowitz, the commission's chairman, said today in a statement. "No matter how big or small, 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."

For its part, Google said that it takes privacy very seriously, and has set in motion the removal of the advertising cookies.

"We set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users," a Google spokesman said in an e-mailed statement. "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."

That consent decree, related to privacy handling with its now-defunct Buzz social-networking service, was signed with the FTC in 2011. Included in that decree was Google's acknowledgment that it would not misrepresent "the extent to which consumers can exercise control over the collection of their information," according to the FTC. The search company did not admit any wrongdoing in that decree.

In today's statement, the FTC said that its fine is "an appropriate remedy," adding that the settlement is in the public interest.

Although Google can't be happy paying a fine, the company has more than enough cash to afford this one. During its last-reported quarter ended June 30, Google generated a $2.8 billion profit of $12.2 billion in revenue.

Google shares are trading up $1.02 to $643.25, following news of the FTC's fine.

This story has been updated throughout the morning.