Google to pay $22.5M privacy fine, source says

Michael Liedtke / The Associated Press /


SAN FRANCISCO — Google is poised to pay a $22.5 million fine to resolve allegations that it broke a privacy promise by secretly tracking millions of Web surfers who rely on Apple’s Safari browser, according to a person familiar with settlement.

The person who spoke to The Associated Press Tuesday asked not to be identified because the fine has yet to be approved by the Federal Trade Commission, which oversees online privacy issues in the U.S.

If approved by the FTC’s five commissioners, the $22.5 million penalty would be the largest the agency has ever imposed on a single company.

Even so, the fine won’t cause Google Inc. much financial pain. With $49 billion in the bank, the Internet’s search and advertising leader is expected to generate revenue this year of about $46 billion, which means the company should bring in enough money to cover the fine in slightly more than four hours.

But the circumstances surrounding the case may renew questions about the sincerity of Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto and raise doubts about the company’s credibility as it grapples with broader regulatory investigations into whether it has been abusing its influential position on the Internet to stifle competition.

“We do set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users,” Google said in a Tuesday statement. The company, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., emphasized the tracking technology inserted into the Safari browser didn’t collect any personal information.

Google will not acknowledge any wrongdoing under the proposed settlement, according to the person familiar with the terms.

The FTC declined to comment Tuesday.

The proposed settlement was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The FTC opened its investigation five months ago after a researcher at Stanford University published a study revealing that Google Inc. had overridden Safari safeguards that are supposed to prevent outside parties from monitoring Web surfing activity without a user’s permission.

The tracking occurs through snippets of computer coding, known as “cookies,” that help Internet services and advertisers target marketing pitches based on an analysis of the interests implied by a person’s Web surfing activity.

Google immediately withdrew its intrusive technology from Safari after the manipulation was reported.