A proposed $22.5 million fine to penalise Google for an alleged privacy breach is on the verge of winning court approval, despite a consumer rights group’s cry for tougher punishment.
US District Judge Susan Illston told lawyers during a Friday court hearing here that she is likely to approve the fine, which is the cornerstone of a settlement reached three months ago between the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Google Inc.
The rebuke is meant to resolve allegations that Google duped millions of Web surfers who use the Safari browser into believing their online activities couldn’t be tracked by the company as long as they didn’t change the browser’s privacy settings.
That assurance was posted on Google’s website earlier this year, even as the Internet search leader was inserting computer coding that bypassed Safari’s automatic settings and enabled the company to peer into the online lives of the browser’s users.
The FTC concluded that the contradiction between Google’s stealth tracking and its privacy assurances to Safari users violated a vow the company made in another settlement with the agency last year. Google had promised not to mislead people about its privacy practices.
While FTC hailed its actions as proof of its resolve to protect the public interest, a consumer rights group Consumer Watchdog attacked the settlement as an example of ineffectual regulation and has demanded that fine be raised.
The FTC considers the fine to be a milestone because it’s the largest the agency has ever levied for a civil violation. The FTC estimates Google generated no more than $4 million in revenue from its alleged misconduct.
FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said he expects regulators to decide whether to sue, settle or simply close the probe by the end of this year.