Report: FTC and Google near record settlement


The Journal first reported in February that Google had been tracking Safari users in violation of the Web browser's privacy settings.

Unlike other Web browsers, Apple Safari's default settings prohibit sites from installing small files called cookies, which can be used to track users.

One exception to this rule is that Safari allows some cookies that enable users to engage in social media content on other sites. For example, the exception allows users to click Facebook's "Like" button when they are on news sites.

Google installed a temporary cookie to allow users to interact with the company's "+1" button on sites and ads. But this feature caused Safari to accept other tracking files from Google's ad network.

As a result, Safari users saw ads tailored to their browsing history, a violation of their privacy settings.

Google has insisted that the tracking was inadvertent.

A Google spokeswoman said the company could not comment on any specifics of a settlement but that the company has "the highest standards of privacy and security for our users." 

"The FTC is focused on a 2009 help center page published more than two years before our consent decree, and a year before Apple changed its cookie-handling policy," she said. "We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple’s browsers." 

Google agreed to a consent decree with the FTC last year over charges that it mishandled its users' personal information with the launch of its now-defunct social network, Buzz. The company eventually replaced Buzz with the Google+ social network.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also investigated Google for collecting personal information from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks as its cars drove around the world taking pictures for its Google Maps service. The FCC concluded that the data collection was not illegal, but the agency fined the company $25,000 for obstructing the investigation.

The FTC is also conducting an antitrust investigation of Google over concerns that the company is stifling competition by manipulating its search results to ensure that its own services appear above those of its rivals.