Google (GOOG) and the Federal Trade Commission are closing in on a deal that
would force the Mountain View search giant to pay a record $22.5 million fine
for bypassing the default privacy settings of Apple's (AAPL) Safari browser
for Google users, according to a report.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the two sides were close to the deal, which would be the largest fine the FTC has ever levied on a single company.
The FTC investigation focuses on whether Google violated the terms of an existing settlement involving privacy problems with its ill-fated "Buzz" social network in 2010; because of that settlement, Google faces sanctions as large as $16,000 per violation per day in the Safari case, which potentially affected millions of iPhone, iPad and Mac users.
As part of its agreement signed last year with the FTC after the Buzz incident, Google agreed to undergo 20 years of outside reviews of its privacy policies and promised not to misrepresent its privacy practices to consumers. Google did not acknowledge breaking the law by agreeing to the Buzz consent decree and did not pay a fine.
As with the earlier Buzz case,
Google has said the Safari breach was inadvertent. Google has acknowledged it changed the default settings in Safari browsers to allow the "+1" button connected to its Google+ social network to work with Apple's browser. It said those changes inadvertently resulted in Google's advertising tracking software becoming attached to the browsers of many iPhone and iPad users -- even though Google's own website had told Safari users that if they took no action, they would be protected from having their travels across the Web monitored and shared with advertisers.
"We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled," Google said when the charges first came to light. "We created a temporary communication link between Safari browsers and Google's servers, so that we could ascertain whether Safari users were also signed into Google, and had opted for personalized ads and other content. However, the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser."
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