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Aug 10, 2012 at 09:10am IST

Google to pay $ 22.5 mn fine for violating privacy

Washington: Internet giant Google has agreed to pay $ 22.5 million as fine to settle charges that it violated the default privacy norms of the Apple's web browser, Safari, the US Federal regulators have said.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had charged that it misrepresented to users of Safari that it would not place tracking "cookies" or serve targeted ads to those users, violating an earlier privacy settlement between the company and the FTC.

The settlement is part of the FTC's ongoing efforts make sure companies live up to the privacy promises they make to consumers, and is the largest penalty the agency has ever obtained for a violation of a Commission order.

Google to pay $ 22.5 mn fine for violating privacy

The internet giant has been charged with violating the default privacy norms of the Apple's web browser, Safari

In addition to the civil penalty, the order also requires Google to disable all the tracking cookies it had said it would not place on consumers' computers. "The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order," said Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC.

In its complaint, the FTC charged that for several months in 2011 and 2012, Google placed a certain advertising tracking cookie on the computers of Safari users who visited sites within Google's DoubleClick advertising network, although Google had previously told these users they would automatically be opted out of such tracking, as a result of the default settings of the Safari browser used in Macs, iPhones and iPads.

According to the FTC's complaint, Google specifically told Safari users that because the Safari browser is set by default to block third-party cookies, as long as users do not change their browser settings, this setting "effectively accomplishes the same thing as [opting out of this particular Google advertising tracking cookie]."

In addition, Google represented that it is a member of an industry group called the Network Advertising Initiative, which requires members to adhere to its self-regulatory code of conduct, including disclosure of their data collection and use practices.

Despite these promises, the FTC charged that Google placed advertising tracking cookies on consumers' computers, in many cases by circumventing the Safari browser's default cookie-blocking setting.

Google exploited an exception to the browser's default setting to place a temporary cookie from the DoubleClick domain.

Because of the particular operation of the Safari browser, that initial temporary cookie opened the door to all cookies from the DoubleClick domain, including the Google advertising tracking cookie that Google had represented would be blocked from Safari browsers.

The FTC charged that Google's misrepresentations violated a settlement it reached with the agency in October 2011, which barred Google from - among other things - misrepresenting the extent to which consumers can exercise control over the collection of their information.

The earlier settlement resolved FTC charges that Google used deceptive tactics and violated its privacy promises when it launched its social network, Google Buzz.

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