July 10, 2012, 9:13 PM — Privacy advocates today welcomed news of a possible Google proposal to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
charges related to its surreptitious tracking of Apple Safari users.
The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, today reported that Google had
basically agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle the FTC charges.
If that figure holds, the fine would be the biggest ever levied by the FTC on a single company. The previous
record was a $10 million fine the agency imposed on
data aggregator ChoicePoint Inc. in 2006 for a data breach that resulted in the compromise of nearly 160,000
While the fine is likely to be small change for Google, its significance cannot be underestimated, several
privacy advocates said.
"The FTC fine's impact on Google can't just be measured in dollars," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of
privacy-watchdog group the Center for Digital Democracy. " It sends a strong signal to Google users that the
company is still failing to do right by their privacy. If they don't do a better job protecting privacy, it will
face larger fines and greater political consequences."
In a statement, Google said it could not comment on any specifics of a settlement. "However, we do set the
highest standards of privacy and security for our users. 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
The agreement comes six months after a graduate student at Stanford University published a paper showing how Google and three other companies were circumventing
the Safari browser's do-not-track settings, to install tracking cookies on user systems.
The revelation prompted scathing criticism from several quarters and prompted calls by three lawmakers for an FTC
probe. Several contended that the cookie placement contradicted Google's claims that it respected Safari's