Google is set to pay a $22.5 million fine for bypassing the privacy settings of users of Apple’s Safari browser, the largest penalty for a single company in the history of the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC charged Google with tricking the browser into accepting an advertising cookie that tracked users’ online activities even if the person had disabled tracking, Apple Insider reported.
Google said it has changed its page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies. It claims the tracking was inadvertent, but the FTC believes the act was in violation of a 20-year deal the Google signed with Apple in October in which both sides agreed not to misrepresent privacy settings to customers.
The fine amounts to $16,000 per violation per day. Google pulled off the deception by exploiting a loophole in Safari that allowed an advertiser to place a cookie when the user interacted with an ad, Apple Insider reported. Some of Google’s ads would send an invisible form making it appear that the user was interacting with the ad, which allowed Safari to place a temporary cookie in the user’s computer.
Google maintains that the actions didn’t cause any harm to users, but the Wall Street Journal noted that the actions contradicted previous assurances the company had made to Safari users.
The fine is only a sliver of Google’s annual revenue, but the negative press about the company’s privacy practices could hurt users’ trust in the company, the Wall Street Journal noted. Last year Google agreed to forfeit $500 million in a settlement with the Justice Department for promoting illegal sales of prescription drugs.