US regulators vote to fine Google £14.5 million in Safari case

A US regulatory body has voted to fine Google a $22.5 million (£14.5 million) civil penalty to settle charges it violated users’ privacy by bypassing cookie settings in Apple’s Safari web browser, Reuters has reported, citing “two people familiar with the matter.”

The fine will allow Google to settle the case and end the Federal Trade Commission’s investigation without having to admit liability, once of the sources said. The penalty is the largest ever imposed by the agency, but will be little more than sofa change for the search giant, which raked in $37.9 billion (£24 billion) in revenue last year.

The decision to levy the penalty was reached after the FTC found that Google deployed a work-around to avoid having to contend with Safari’s default privacy settings, ultimately allowing it to track users’ computer and mobile use by leaving ad cookies behind.

Google denies it collected private user data like names and financial information, and maintains that the work-around was designed to give users with Google+ accounts access to the full functionality of its integrated +1 button.

"We have now...taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple's browsers," a spokesperson said earlier this month.

The FTC has not yet commented on the issue, but is likely to make an official announcement this week, a source said.

Though it looks as though Google will soon have this particular infraction behind it, the company still has a handful of other accusations to defend itself against. It recently admitted to the Information Commissioner’s Office that it had not deleted all of the UK personal data stolen by its Street View mapping cars, and is also being investigated by EU and US regulators for antitrust violations related to its alleged manipulation of search results to favour its own products.

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