Google to Pay Record FTC Fine for Violating Apple Users' Privacy

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on July 11, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Google has reached a settlement with the FTC over privacy concerns regarding Google's use of Apple's Safari browser.

This agreement comes several months after the FTC began investing Google's activities in response to a Wall Street Journal article. The article indicated that Google was tracking Safari users by circumventing the privacy controls using a special piece of code. They discontinued that practice after the article was published by the FTC launched an investigation into Google's privacy practices.

The alleged settlement amount is $22.5 Million. If that's true, it would be the biggest fine ever levied by the FTC.

It may not be a huge to Google; the amount is roughly equivalent to 5 hours of income according to The Wall Street Journal. Still, it's a big deal for a relatively small federal agency like the FTC.

If the investigation had concluded without a settlement, the FTC may have chosen to prosecute Google in federal court. The agency has the power to prosecute any inquiry as part of its role regulating any type of business, except banking, which affects commerce.

As part of the settlement deal, Google is not admitting fault but they are agreeing to pay the fine and to refrain from tracking without user permission.

Agreeing to a settlement allows the company to avoid a potentially messy lawsuit about whether their practices did or did not violate user privacy. Even if the company were fully absolved, the bad publicity and potential loss of confidence from users could do much more damage than the proposed settlement. While they must pay the money, Google will not be considered the wrongdoer in this case, at least not from a legal standpoint.

Whether the public agrees that the technology giant still follows their "Do No Evil" policy remains to be seen.

Just last year, Google signed a 20-year consent decree with the FTC agreeing to not misrepresent its privacy policy to users. The current investigation looked into whether Google had violated that agreement based on its use of the Apple's Safari browser.

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