The US Federal Trade Commission is close to levying a $22.5m fine against Google over what the search group has called an “inadvertent” breach of its privacy practices.
The fine, which would be the largest the FTC has imposed, would be part of a settlement that has been agreed in principle but not yet approved by FTC commissioners and will not be concluded until next week at the earliest, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The case stems from Google’s collection of information about the browsing habits of people who use Apple’s Safari browser, even when they asked not to be tracked.
The company has described the tracking as an unplanned side-effect that resulted when it changed its code for adverts running in Safari to include new social features. It has since said that it has removed the “cookies” that were mistakenly placed on some users’ computers to collect data about their browsing.
Though relatively small for Google in financial terms, the fine would be a further black eye for the internet search group following other recent privacy slips.
Late last year it agreed to outside auditing of its compliance with its privacy policies for 20 years to resolve a complaint springing from the launch of its Buzz social network, which has since been closed. It is also still under investigation in a number of countries over the collection of personal data from home WiFi networks by cars sent out to photograph cities for its StreetView service.
Details of Google’s draft settlement agreement with the FTC were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.