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Timothy B. Lee

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Posted at 11:56 AM ET, 08/09/2012

Google settles FTC privacy case for $22.5 million, agency’s largest penalty

Google and the Federal Trade Commission Thursday announced the company has agreed to a $22.5 million settlement — the agency’s largest penalty ever — on charges that Google misrepresented its actions to users of Apple’s Safari browser.

The FTC charged that Google had placed tracking cookies on users’ computers, in some cases working around the privacy settings of Apple’s browser. This, the agency said, violated a settlement Google made with the FTC last March over privacy issues with its Google Buzz social network. In that settlement, Google agreed not to misrepresent its privacy policies to consumers.

In a release, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said that the penalty underscores the agency’s commitment to enforcing its orders on privacy.

“The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order,” Leibowitz said.  “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.”

As The Washington Post reported, the settlement had been expected for more than a month, and concludes one of a growing list of legal conflicts Google faces from regulators in the U.S. and in Europe.

In addition to the civil penalty, the FTC ordered Google to disable all tracking cookies deemed to violate the settlement, something Google did shortly after researchers discovered the cookies.

In a statement, Google said, “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.”

By  |  11:56 AM ET, 08/09/2012

 
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