Google On The Hook For A Record $22.5 Million In Safari Privacy Case

Better start digging around in those couch cushions, Google. The company has agreed to settle with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that it fudged privacy settings of Apple’s Safari Internet browser when it told users it wouldn’t place cookies or serve targeted ads. It’s going to cost Google a pretty penny to pay the civil penalty — a record $22.5 million.

A press release from the FTC says Google was in violation of an earlier privacy settlement it had going with the commission. This is the largest FTC penalty ever for violating one of its orders. Besides forking over all that dough, Google will be required to disable all the tracking cookies it said it wasn’t going to place on consumers’ computers.

“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.”

The FTC said that for many months in 2011 and 2012, Google placed a particular advertising tracking cookie on Safari users’ computers who were visiting sites within Google’s DoubleClick advertising network. That way, Google could serve ads based on what users were surfing for. But the funny thing was that Google had already told users they’d be automatically opted out of that tracking because it was supposed to be a default setting in Macs, iPhones and iPads using Safari. Nope!

According to the FTC’s complaint, Google went around all this by putting a temporary cookie from DoubleClick’s domain in the browser, circumventing the default setting. That first little cookie then opened the floodgate for any other DoubleClick cookies, including that pesky advertising tracking cookie Google had said would be blocked from Safari.

The earlier privacy settlement that the FTC said Google crossed was from October 2011, which told Google it couldn’t misrepresent how much control users have over how their information is collected.

We’re sure Google’s couch is pretty darn huge, with plenty of change to scrounge up that $22.5 million.