FTC backs $22.5 million Google settlement over Safari

WASHINGTON Tue Jul 31, 2012 4:03pm EDT

A woman walks past the Google Chicago headquarters logo in Chicago, March 20, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Young

A woman walks past the Google Chicago headquarters logo in Chicago, March 20, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. regulators will require Google Inc to pay a civil penalty of $22.5 million to settle charges that it bypassed the privacy settings of customers using Apple Inc's Safari browser, two people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

Members of the Federal Trade Commission voted to approve a consent decree that will allow Google to settle the agency's investigation but admit no liability, said one of the sources, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

An official announcement is expected within days, the second source said.

The probe was prompted by allegations that Google used computer code known as "cookies" to trick Apple's Safari browser so Google could monitor users who had blocked such tracking.

Google has said the tracking was inadvertent and that it collected no personal information like names, addresses or credit card data.

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.

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 top search engine provider is also the subject of a wide-ranging antitrust investigation by the FTC and European regulators over accusations that it manipulated search results to favor its own products.

The FTC declined to comment on the Safari matter.

Google declined to comment on any settlement but said the investigation was prompted by a 2009 help center web page that predated a change in Apple's cookie-handling policy.

"We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple's browsers," a Google spokeswoman said in a statement.

(Reporting By Diane Bartz; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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