Google Inc. has agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges for misleading users about its tracking activities on Apple Inc.’s Safari browser, the regulatory agency said.
The penalty is the largest-ever FTC penalty for violating a commission order. It comes amid mounting privacy concerns related to the vast amount of information collected by technology companies through browsers, websites, social media and cell phones.
A representative from Google was not immediately available for comment.
For several months in 2011 and 2012, the FTC charged, Google placed advertising tracking cookies on the computers of Safari users who visited sites within Google’s DoubleClick advertising network, though the company had previously told users that they would automatically opt out of this tracking through the browser’s default settings.
Safari is the browser installed on Apple’s Macs, iPhones and iPads.
Google also represented itself as a member of the Network Advertising Initiative, an industry group that requires members to adhere to a code of conduct, which includes disclosing data collection and use.
Google generates a large chunk of its revenue from selling online advertising services, including the delivery of targeted ads online. By placing tracking cookies on a user’s computer, it can collect information about that person’s web-browsing activities, and use that information to send online ads targeted to the user’s interests.
Along with the penalty, Google has agreed to disable all the tracking cookies it said it would not place on users’ computers, the regulator said.
The FTC charged that Google’s actions violated an October 2011 settlement, which barred Google from misrepresenting the extent of control that customers have over the collection of their information. The earlier settlement dated back to FTC’s charges that Google had used deceptive practices and violated its primacy promises when it launched its social network Google Buzz.