While smartphones running Google’s Android operating system have been out-shipping iOS devices by 4-to-1, and analysts continue to evaluate the outlook for the two operating systems, federal regulators have been busy evaluating claims that Google tracked the clicks of millions of iPhone and iPad users without their knowledge. The Federal Trade Commission has reportedly ordered Google to pay a $22.5 million fine for deceiving users of Apple’s Safari web browser.
Safari, of course is Apple’s default web browser on its iOS devices, as well as on Macintosh computers. The browser does not allow “cookies” that track a user’s clicks, unless a user changes Safari’s settings to allow tracking. But Google apparently found a back door way to track clicks through its DoubleClick advertising software. By keeping tabs on which websites people visited, Google was able to show them ads that were more likely to match their interests. But the search engine giant led users to believe that their privacy was still protected by Safari, and this deception led to the fine. The FTC is also requiring Google to remove all tracking cookies from devices using Safari. This sounds like an infinite task, but Google has until 2014 to complete it.
The $22.5 million fine may not represent a huge setback for Google, which booked almost $38 billion in revenue last year, but it does represent the largest fine the Federal Trade Commission has ever levied on a company for a civil violation.