Judge approves $22.5m Google-FTC settlement, rebuffs consumer group

A US judge has rebuffed efforts by California-based Consumer Watchdog to derail Google's settlement with the FTC regarding the bypassing of Safari privacy settings.. The group wanted a harsher penalty, and is now urging a full FTC suit over Google's search practices.

A US judge has spurned a consumer rights group's call for Google to have to pay more than $22.5m in settlement over its Safari privacy row, by approving the original figure set by the Federal Trade Commission.

The $22.5m (£14.1m) fine was a record for the FTC when it established the size of the settlement in August. However, California-based Consumer Watchdog, which felt Google should face tougher penalties over its actions, was allowed to oppose the sum later that month.

According to an AP report, San Francisco district judge Susan Illston ruled late on Friday that the $22.5m figure would stand, and Google responded by saying it was "glad the court agreed there was no merit to this challenge".

Earlier this year, it emerged that Google had been bypassing the privacy settings in Apple's browser, Safari, so that its sites could continue tracking Safari users even when their settings supposedly blocked this activity.

This was a particularly big problem because of a previous Google settlement with the FTC in 2011, in the wake of the Buzz debacle. That settlement had seen Google promise to be clear about its tracking operations.

Under the new settlement, Google gets to walk away without having officially been found to have done anything wrong.

Consumer Watchdog is now trying to get the FTC to properly take Google to court over its search business practices, rather than settling again. This would be a similar case to that being decided by EU authorities , with Microsoft and others having accused Google of downranking their services in its search results.

The Californian group wrote to FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz on Thursday, calling for Google to be broken up "so there is no incentive to unfairly use search to promote other services".

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