Google is on the verge of being slapped with a $22.5 million fine by the FTC, after the company was caught dipping its hands into Safari’s cookie jar, the Wall St. Journal first reported. Though its a mere handful of change to Google, the fine would be one of the largest the agency has ever leveled against a single company.
By default, Apple blocks third party cookies in Safari, but Google’s code circumvented the block to enable cookies, until discovered by Stanford University researcher Jonathan Mayer last February. Google claimed the tracking was unintentional and resulted from a need to track whether users were plugged into Google+. Google denied that the tracking collected any personal information, and disabled the tracking when it was reported to the Wall St. Journal.
Despite the hefty fine, Google downplayed the significance of the controversy.
“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 circulated statement. “We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple’s browsers.”
Microsoft had earlier accused Google of similar privacy infractions, but as Google pointed out, it was because Microsoft had been using outdated P3P protocol which is not supported by most modern web browsers.
The size of the fine is highly unusual to the FTC, though pennies on the dollar considering the scope of Google’s $37.9 billion business. And while Google’s fine may be the equivalent of a 15 minute time out in the corner for the search giant, it does force Google and other web entities to think twice about the cookies they tracks.