Google to be fined £14.5m in privacy case

Google is expected to be fined $22.5 million (£14.5 million) to settle charges related to its sidestepping of user privacy settings in Apple’s Safari Web browser, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

The privacy violation pertains to a piece of code used by Google to bypass privacy controls on Safari, ultimately allowing the search giant to track users’ computer and mobile use using cookies.

Google used the sneaky workaround to circumvent Safari’s default cookie settings - which do not allow advertisers to place cookies on users’ devices - to enable Google+ users to interact with the social network’s integrated +1 button within Google’s DoubleClick ad network.

Though many of the cookies in question were set to expire after 12 - 24 hours, this wasn’t always the case, as “the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser,” a Google spokesperson said earlier in the year.

If finalised, the settlement will likely be the largest single-company penalty in the Federal Trade Commission’s history, though it will be a negligible sum for Google, which earned $37.9 billion (£24 billion) in revenue in 2011.

Though the company insists no private user data was collected, it’s not the first time Google has found itself in hot water thanks to privacy concerns. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office recently announced it was reopening its inquiry into Google’s Street View program, which was found to have obtained swathes of personal data without authorisation.