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Google's $22.5m privacy fine confirmed by US court despite consumer group's objections

A US court has confirmed an agreement forged between Google and a consumer protection regulator which will see the internet giant pay $22.5 million to settle privacy breach claims against it.19 Nov 2012

In August Google formed an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to settle claims that it had continued to override the privacy settings of users of Apple's Safari web browser despite giving previous assurances to the regulator that it would no longer do so.

Under the terms of the settlement Google was not forced to admit any wrongdoing but it was accused of placing tracking 'cookies', or small text files that record users' online activity, on the devices of those Safari users in order to serve them with targeted advertising.

Safari is Apple's own web browser and is set to block third-party cookies without any action from users. Although it produces versions for other computers, it is primarily used by owners of Macs, iPhones and iPads.

A San Francisco district court judge said that the penalty that Google had agreed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was "fair, adequate and reasonable," according to a report by Mercury News. The judge rejected claims by the Consumer Watchdog group that the terms of the settlement were insufficient punishment for Google.

The judge accepted the claim by the FTC that its agreement with Google "sufficiently protects consumers from ongoing harm without exposing them to additional risks," a report by Associated Press (AP) said.

In August the FTC had said that Google, which generates billions of dollars per year from selling online advertising and targeted advertising services, placed a certain advertising tracking cookie on the devices of Safari users who visited sites within its 'DoubleClick' advertising network over the course of several months between 2011 and 2012. It did so despite having previously told these users that they would not have to take action to block these cookies as Safari's default privacy settings "effectively accomplished the same thing" as opting out, the regulator added at the time.

Google had reached a settlement with the FTC in October 2011 which, among other things, prevented it from "misrepresenting the extent to which consumers can exercise control over the collection of their information", the FTC said.

Google claimed that its actions were unintentional, resulting from a change to the browser of which it had been unaware. It claimed that it stopped tracking Safari users and showing them personalised advertising once the issue was brought to its attention, according to the FTC's settlement.

The internet giant generated $4 million in revenue as a result of the claimed breach, according to the AP report.