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Google pays record fine to settle federal suit

Google's $22.5 million fine is largest every imposed by the Federal Trade Commission for breaking a previous agreement. The Google fine was the result of charges the company was tracking millions of Web users.

By Michael LiedtkeAP Technology Writer / August 9, 2012

In this April file photo, Google workers ride bikes outside of Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Google agreed to a $22.5 million fine to settle a privacy lawsuit, but it didn't admit to wrongdoing.

Paul Sakuma/AP/File

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SAN FRANCISCO

Google is paying a record $22.5 million fine to settle allegations that it broke a privacy promise by secretly tracking millions of Web surfers who use Apple's Safari browser.

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The penalty announced Thursday by the Federal Trade Commission matches the figure that The Associated Press and other media outlets had reported last month. It's the largest fine that the FTC has imposed against a company for violating a previous agreement with the agency.

Google Inc. isn't admitting any wrongdoing in the latest settlement.

The fine isn't over Google's data collection, but for misrepresenting what was happening. Last October, Googlehad signed a 20-year agreement that, among other things, included a company pledge not to mislead consumers about its privacy practices.

The FTC opened its investigation into the Safari activities six months ago after a researcher at Stanford University revealed that Google had overridden Safari safeguards that are supposed to prevent outside parties from monitoring Web surfing activity without a user's permission.

The tracking occurs through snippets of computer coding, known as cookies, that help Internet services and advertisers target marketing pitches based on an analysis of the interests implied by a person's Web surfing activity.

Google immediately withdrew its intrusive technology from Safari after the manipulation was reported.

But the circumvention of Apple's built-in settings appeared to contradict a statement in Google's online help center assuring Safari users that they didn't need to do anything more to ensure their online activities wouldn't be logged by Google.

The apparent contradiction between Google's words and actions became the focal point of the FTC investigation.

Google's fine surpasses a nearly $19 million penalty that the FTC slapped on a telemarketer accused of duping people into believing they were donating to charities.

Google's stock price increased 60 cents to $642.83 in midday trading Thursday, after the FTC announcement.

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