Google fined $22.5m for monitoring of web surfing

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has imposed its biggest ever fine on Google. Users of Apple’s Safari browser who had a "do not track" privacy setting selected were still being monitored, according to the FTC.

According to the FTC’s complaint, Google specifically told Safari users that because the Safari browser is set by default to block third-party cookies, as long as users do not change their browser settings, this setting “effectively accomplishes the same thing as [opting out of this particular Google advertising tracking cookie].”

In addition to the fine, the FTC order also requires Google to disable all the tracking cookies it had said it would not place on consumers’ computers. Google has until 15 February 2014 to remove all of the cookies, the FTC says.

"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," FTC Chairman, Jon Leibowitz, said in a statement.

“We set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users,” Google said in an e-mail statement. “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 Apple’s browsers.”

Google is facing other battles too. The Australian DPA is demanding the deletion of the newly discovered payload data from Google’s Street View service, while some other DPAs, such as the UK’s Information Commissioner (ICO), say that they wish to investigate the data before it can be deleted.