Search giant Google has just been hit with a whopping $22.5 million fine for violating a privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission and tracking the activity of Safari users.
The penalty, which was announced Thursday, matches the figure reported by The Associated Press and other media outlets last month. It’s the highest ever single fine that the FTC has handed out to a company for a civil violation.
According to the FTC’s allegations, Google exploited a loophole in the Safari browser’s privacy settings to track users across the DoubleClick advertising network.
That tracking provided DoubleClick with the ability to secretly track users’ web habits and target advertisements at them even if they had changed their preferences to block these cookies.
“The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement Thursday. “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.”
In response to the suit, Google maintains that the collecting of information was an inadvertent mistake and that no personal data was gathered.
“We set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users,” a Google spokesman wrote in a statement to BBC. “The FTC is focused on a 2009 help center 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.”
The Huffington Post points out that although the $22.5 million fine is a record for the FTC, it will hardly leave much of a financial dent at Google Inc. The company had $43 billion in cash at the end of June and generates $22.5 million in revenue roughly every four hours.