Google agrees to record $22.5M fine on privacy

Google/FTC

Google/FTC
(CBS/AP) Google is paying a record $22.5 million fine to settle allegations that it broke a privacy promise by secretly tracking millions of Web surfers who use Apple's Safari browser.

The penalty announced Thursday by the Federal Trade Commission matches the figure that The Associated Press and other media outlets had reported last month. It's the largest fine that the FTC has imposed against a company for violating a previous agreement with the agency.

Google isn't admitting any wrongdoing in the latest settlement.

The fine isn't over Google's data collection, but for misrepresenting what was happening. Last October, Google had signed a 20-year agreement that, among other things, included a company pledge not to mislead consumers about its privacy practices.

The FTC opened its investigation into the Safari activities six months ago after a researcher at Stanford University revealed that Google 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.

But the circumvention of Apple's built-in settings appeared to contradict a statement in Google's online help center assuring Safari users that they didn't need to do anything more to ensure their online activities wouldn't be logged by Google.

The apparent contradiction between Google's words and actions became the focal point of the FTC investigation.

Google's fine surpasses a nearly $19 million penalty that the FTC slapped on a telemarketer accused of duping people into believing they were donating to charities. 

While the penalty is steep, ZDNET estimates that based on Google's Q2 earnings, the $22.5 million would take about 5 minutes for the company to recoup the fine.

Google's stock price increased 60 cents to $642.83 in midday trading Thursday, after the FTC announcement.

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