Search engine giant Google has agreed to pay a £14.4 million (or $22.5 million) fine imposed on it by the US Federal Trade Commission.

It has been ordered to pay the fine after it was found to be monitoring users of Safari. Apple’s web browser, who had specifically selected the ‘do not track’ option in their privacy settings.

Google, however, hasn’t been fined for the methods it used to get around Safari’s cookie settings. Instead it has been fined for misrepresenting its activity and, as a result, doesn’t have to admit any kind of wrong doing as part of the settlement agreement.

An investigation into Google’s activity was launched after a Stanford University researcher found that it was bypassing user’s preferences on Safari and installing cookies through adverts displayed on websites. By doing this the search engine giant was able to track the habits of users on the Internet – regardless of whether it’d been given their permission.

Cookies are small files, used in Internet browsers, which track web users’ activity to help improve search engine marketing initiatives to specific audiences.

Google has stressed that no personal information has been collected – i.e. names, credit card information etc.

Chairman of the FTC, Jon Leibowitz, stated: “The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order.

“No matter how big or small, all companies must abide by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promises to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place,” Mr Leibowitz added.

A spokesperson for Google commented after the fine had been issued.

He said: “We set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users.

“The FTC is focused on a 2009 help centre page published more than two years before our consent decree, and a year before Apple changed its cookie-handling policy.

“We have now changed that page and taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple’s browsers,” he concluded.

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