The Federal Trade Commission is making an example out of Google by hitting them with the largest fine ever for an FTC violation. The search giant has agreed to pay a $22.5 million civil penalty related to accusations that they placed tracking cookies on the computers of Safari browser users that visited Google advertising partner websites for several months in 2011 and 2012.
The problem is that Google had previously told Safari users that they would automatically be excluded from such tracking because Safari’s default settings supposedly prohibited it on Macs, iPhones and iPads. This led Safari users to think they had automatically opted out of the advertising tracking cookie but that wasn’t the case.
The FTC says that Google placed the tracking cookies on consumers’ computers anyway, often times circumventing Safari’s default cookie-blocking policy. The commission ultimately determined that by doing this, the search giant had violated an October 2011 settlement which banned them from misrepresenting the extent to which consumers can control the collection of their information.
“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. “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.”
Google is now taking steps to remove the advertising cookies. In an emailed statement to CNET, a spokesperson said they set the highest standards of privacy and security for their users. Google further points out that no personal information was collected through use of the ad cookie.
Although the fine is record-setting, it’s hardly a drop in the bucket for Google. The company posted a $2.8 billion profit in the last quarter that ended June 30.