The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Google is close to settling the Federal Trade Commission’s charges against them, stemming from their deliberate bypassing of Safari users’ privacy settings. The hefty fine of $22.5 million will be the largest fine ever handed to a single company by the FTC.
The privacy breach in question took place last February, when Google coded their Help Center pages in such a way as to get around Safari’s privacy settings. There’s an option in Safari to block any tracking of users’ online activity, but Google was circumventing this feature and still logging usage statistics of the people who had chosen to block them.
Google has since changed the Help Center to no longer bypass Safari’s security features, and they claim the workaround was inadvertent. Nonetheless, they were breaching a previous agreement they signed with the FTC last October, that prevents them from collecting user data without notification. The proposed fine in that agreement was $16,000 per user per day of breaching their privacy.
It looks Google has agreed to settle with the FTC, for an amount which, while it’s the largest amount the FTC has ever fined anyone for, is still a tiny amount of money for a company the size of Google. The WSJ points out that Google makes $22.5 million in about five hours. (This settlement beats the previous FTC fine record of $18.8 million, which was handed down to a telemarketer caught scamming people out of money by telling them it was going to charity.)
Once Google settles with the FTC, they’ve still got a laundry list of privacy woes to deal with. The European Union is still investigating whether Google is complying with their internet privacy laws, and the French civil liberties organization Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et Libertés is preparing an extensive report on what they believe to be privacy infringement’s on Google’s part. A group of American state attorneys are also looking into the matter, and may choose to levy additional fines against Google.