Google To Pay $22.5m To Settle Apple Safari Privacy Row

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe’s Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Google has agreed to settle over claims it forced cookies down Apple users’ throats

Google is reportedly close to settling for $22.5 million over claims it was sneakily bypassing privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser, so it could track users’ activity with cookies.

The search engine giant allegedly sidestepped control settings in Apple Safari that prevented third-party cookies from tracking users by default. Google created some code to trick Safari into allowing those cookies, landing it in hot water with regulators and users alike. It was believed Google had done the same for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, but in that case Google blamed Microsoft for using an out-of-date protection system.

Google has now agreed to pay a $22.5 million fine from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the Safari situation, which will be the biggest ever penalty handed to a single company by the US watchdog, according to the Wall Street Journal, which cited officials briefed on the settlement terms.

“We cannot comment on any specifics,” a Google spokesperson said. “However we do set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users. The FTC is focused on a 2009 help centre 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.”

More fines coming?

The FTC began investigating the case in March, when it started determining how high a fine could be, given its own regulations stipulated that would be based on $16,000 per violation per day.

The company could be hit with European fines too, as the French data protection watchdog, Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), is believed to be looking into the matter. CNIL is also investigating Google for its privacy policy update, which it issued this year, collating all of its various policies into one document and making it clear it could share user information across services.

Google continues to be scrutinised for alleged privacy failings. In the UK, the  Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) last month reopened its investigation into the Google Street View Wi-Fi data slurping case, after reviewing the controversial findings of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report into the saga.

Google was fined $25,000 by the FCC in April for collecting payload data on its Street View rounds.

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