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Google has agreed to pay a settlement of $17m to 38 US states in order to end a probe into claims that it deliberately bypassed user privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser.
The issue came to light in February 2012 after it was revealed that Google had altered its DoubleClick advertising platform coding to circumvent settings in Safari that stopped third-party cookies from being installed. The practice had been taking place for nine months.
Installing these cookies allows Google to gather information on users’ browsing habits by tracking their movements across the web, so it can serve them more relevant adverts.
The issue has already proved costly for Google, after an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) led to a $22.5m fine for the firm. Now the US states have also secured a settlement, citing laws relating to consumer protection and privacy laws.
New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman said securing the $17m settlement – of which New York will receive $899,580 – showed that public privacy could not be ignored by tech giants.
"Consumers should be able to know whether there are other eyes surfing the web with them. By tracking millions of people without their knowledge, Google violated not only their privacy, but also their trust," he said. "We must give consumers the reassurance that they can browse the internet safely and securely.”
Google has also agreed not to deploy similar code in future unless necessary to “detect, prevent or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues,” and to improve the information given to users about how it serves adverts to their browsers.
Google said that it was pleased to have reached a conclusion in the case and had already acted to ensure the issue does not happen again. "We work hard to get privacy right at Google and have taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple’s browsers," it said in a statement.