Google faces fine for bypassing Apple's Safari privacy settings

Summary:Only days after the FCC fined Google for impeding and hindering its investigation, the FTC is looking to fine the company for bypassing Safari users' browser settings to set tracking code.

U.S. government regulators may fine Google a second time this month, reports suggest.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is expected to decide on whether to fine Google for breaching user privacy, after it emerged the search giant bypassed privacy settings on Apple's Safari browser on iPhones and iPads, which left users vulnerable to tracking cookies.

A report in the San Jose Mercury News, citing sources familiar with the matter, notes the FTC is "deep into an investigation" of Google's actions, and could impose heavy fines within the next 30 days.

Google was accused of bypassing Safari's security by allowing sites to set tracking cookies, despite the security settings that should have preventing the practice. The website code which set the cookies was to allow users who had signed in to Google+ on Safari to access the '+1' button within advertisements, powered by Google's own DoubleClick network.

The search company admitted that it carried out this action, and since ceased the practice.

The FTC investigation is reportedly examining whether Google's privacy bypassing actions violated a 2011 settlement agreement set out between the agency and the company over Google Buzz.

The FTC could issue sanctions up to $16,000 per violation per day should the search and mobile giant be found in breach of the ruling.

Google told sister site CNET that it "[provides] features that signed-in Google users had enabled", but noting: "the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser". Google said it would co-operate with any regulatory body that has questions.

The agency ordered that Google's privacy policies should be audited for 20 years after Google apologised for the Buzz foul-up, emphasising that "user trust really matters." It was also forced to no longer misrepresent privacy or confidentiality of user data, and gain explicit consent before sharing user data with third parties.

The prospects of more fines comes only a few days since the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said it would propose a $25,000 fine for Google after the regulator said the company “deliberately impeded and delayed” an ongoing investigation into whether federal snooping laws were broken as part of its Street View data collection service.

Criticised for being a meagre penalty compared to the company's profits, had the new European data protection laws been in place today, the company could have been fined just shy of $1 billion.

Image credit: CNET.

Related:

Topics: Government : US, Apple, Browser, Google, Government, Operating Systems

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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