Federal judge signs off on FTC's biggest fine ever.
Back in August, Google and the FTC agreed on a settlement regarding claims that the search giant had bypassed Safari's security settings to track users. This week, a U.S. judge approved the settlement. The Associated Press writes that U.S. District Judge Susan Illston approved the on Friday evening.
Back in February, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google and other ad networks were taking advantage of a certain exception within the Safari browser. You see, Apple's Safari is set to block third-party cookies by default, accepting cookies only from sites that a user visits or interacts with. The exception to this rule allows cookies if you interact with a form or advertisement in certain ways. The Journal reported that Google and other ad networks took advantage of this exception by using an invisible form and its +1 Google+ recommendation system. Essentially, Google allowed Safari users who had signed into Google+ to interact with DoubleClick ads using an embedded '+1' button. This would then send off an invisible form that would have Safari think the user had provided permission for cookies to be stored.
At the time, Google said it used the workaround to enable signed-in G+ users the ability to +1 content around the web but was unaware it inadvertently enabled the advertising cookies. However, the FTC worried that Google was violating a previous privacy agreement and launched an investigation into the issue. The FTC this week said that that Google's misrepresentations violated an October 2011 settlement that barred Google from misrepresenting the extent to which consumers can exercise control over the collection of their information.
The fine is the largest the FTC has ever dished out and though $22.5 million isn't exactly pocket change, it's not exactly going to hurt Google either. The AP cites Consumer Watchdog in reporting that Google earns $22.5 million every four hours. In fact, because of the number of people affected, Consumer Watchdog attorney Gary Reback said the search giant should be fined $3 billion for its actions. Despite Consumer Watchdog's disappointment with the fine, the FTC is happy with the settlement. The Commission feels the settlement "sufficiently protects consumers from ongoing harm without exposing them to additional risks." Google maintains it didn't bypass Safari's settings on purpose.