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Google Faces FTC Fines for Safari Privacy Bypass

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is currently investigating Google for breaching user privacy in Apple's Safari browser, and will decide whether or not to fine the tech company.

News broke in February that Google had bypassed privacy blockers in the Web browser to track users' cookies -- even if cookies for a specific user had been disabled. Shortly after, it was discovered that a similar act was taking place with Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser.  

According to a San Jose Mercury News report, sources told the paper that the FCC "is deep into an investigation of Google's actions in bypassing the default privacy settings of Apple's (AAPL) Safari browser for Google users." It also said that fines could be ordered in the next 30 days.

On the specific regulation infractions caused by Google, the newspaper said its unnamed source, who is familiar with ongoing communications between the FTC and Google, discussed that the government regulatory body was currently looking to see if this matter violated existing consent protocols "that resulted from alleged previous privacy violations."

If found to be at fault, Google could be fined $16,000 per violation per day. This would add up to a substantial amount, as a violation could be counted for every individual affected by the breach -- a number that could be in the millions of users per day.  

When the claim from Apple was first made that Google was bypassing user privacy preferences, the company said in February it was done accidently and was caused by corrupted code connected to Google's  "+1" social media button.

Speaking to CNET this week, Chris Gaither, a spokesperson for Google, said that the privacy bypass was part of features that Google users running Safari had enabled.

"We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled," Gaither said. "We created a temporary communication link between Safari browsers and Google's servers, so that we could ascertain whether Safari users were also signed into Google, and had opted for personalized ads and other content. However, the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser."

If found to be at fault, the monetary penalty is expected to be higher than its recent fine of $25,000 levied by the Federal Communications Commission for privacy violations connected with its Google Street  View.

About the Author

Chris Paoli is the site producer for Redmondmag.com and MCPmag.com.

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