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Google pays just $22.5m to FTC over Safari tracking blunder

More of a tickle than a drop and cough test

As expected, Google has agreed to pay the US Federal Trade Commission a paltry penalty of $22.5m for its sneaky bypassing of the default privacy settings of Apple's Safari browser.

The consumer watchdog confirmed in a statement today that Google had settled on charges that it "misrepresented privacy assurances to users" and described the fine as the biggest one ever meted out over the violation of a Commission order.

Nonetheless, the payout is ridiculously small change to Google - which racks up sales of over $20m roughly every five hours. Indeed, the US regulator acknowledged the fact that the company generates billions of dollars of revenue annually.

The penalty was gently flung at the search and ad giant, after the FTC confirmed that it had violated an earlier privacy agreement with the commission.

There was another minor slap applied to the rosy cheek of CEO Larry Page, with the FTC stating that, in addition to the civil penalty, the order also demands Google to disable all the tracking cookies it had said it would place on consumers' computers.

The commission's chairman Jon Leibowitz said:

The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order.

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.

The FTC referred the case to the US Department of Justice, which on Wednesday agreed that Google's privacy blunder was in the public interest and proposed a consent decree that is subject to court approval.

Google, as part of its original agreement in October 2011, avoided being fined and did not have to admit that its biz practices had been unlawful. However, it was always clear that a penalty would be issued to Google if it was found to have violated that deal.

A consent decree makes it clear that the defendant in question - in this case Google - had not operated outside of the law by breaking the initial settlement deal with the FTC.

So slapped hands all round, but the headmaster's cane remains fixed to the wall.

Click here for the FTC's full statement, and this way for a handy technical guide to Google's crafty screw-up. ®

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