Google Inc is close to settling charges that it bypassed the privacy settings of customers using Apple Inc's Safari browser, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Google will pay $22.5 million to settle the matter, said one of the sources, who spoke privately to protect relationships.
The fine would be the largest penalty ever levied on a single company by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, according to the Wall Street Journal which reported the potential settlement late on Monday.
The largest currently is the $15 million paid by ChoicePoint Inc in 2006 after a data breach, according to a third source.
The charges involve the use of special computer code, or "cookies," to trick Apple's Safari browser so Google could monitor users who had blocked such tracking.
Google disabled the code after being contacted by the Journal. Google has said the tracking was inadvertent and that no personal information such as names, addresses or credit card data was collected.
But the tracking was done despite assurances that Safari could be set to protect users' privacy and prompted an FTC probe into whether Google violated a consent decree signed last year. Google said then it would not misrepresent its privacy policies.
"The FTC is focused on a 2009 help center page published more than two years before our consent decree," a Google spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. "We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple's browsers."
Google also faces potential sanctions from other governments. It is being investigated by the European Union to determine if the company complies with Europe's stricter privacy laws.
The search engine is also the subject of a wide-ranging antitrust investigation by the FTC because of accusations the company manipulated search results to favor its own products.
An FTC spokeswoman declined to comment.