Today the Federal Trade Commission has announced its approval of a consent decree to settle charges that Google misrepresented to users of Apple’s Safari browser that it would not place tracking “cookies” or serve targeted ads to those users, violating an earlier privacy settlement between the company and the FTC.  The decree requires Google to pay a civil penalty of $22.5 million and to disable all of the tracking cookies it had said it would not place on Safari users’ computers.  The FTC states that this settlement “is the largest FTC penalty ever for violation of a Commission order.” 

Google’s practices related to Safari first became subject to public scrutiny after a February 2012 Wall Street Journal article alleged that Google and other advertising companies installed special code onto users’ computers that tricked Safari into allowing the companies to track users’ web-browsing habits.  Safari is designed to block tracking by default.  In its complaint, the FTC charged that for several months in 2011 and 2012, Google placed cookies on the computers of Safari users who visited sites within Google’s DoubleClick advertising network, despite previous language on Google’s Help Center website telling those users they would automatically be opted out of such tracking.  Under the settlement, through February 15, 2014 Google must maintain systems configured to instruct Safari browsers to expire any DoubleClick cookie placed by Google on or before February 15, 2012.