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Google Inc's $22.5 million agreement with the US Federal Trade Commission to settle claims the company improperly planted cookies on Apple Inc's Safari Internet browser was approved by a federal judge.
The United States District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco found arguments from a consumer group that the settlement was inadequate were unpersuasive and accepted the agreement.
The court "finds that the proposed order is both procedurally and substantively fair, adequate and reasonable," Illston wrote in her order issued after Friday's hearing.
Under the terms of the settlement, in addition to paying the fine, Google agreed to disable all the tracking cookies it had placed on the computers of Safari users and ensure all are gone by February 2014. Google denied wrongdoing, according to filings in federal court in San Francisco. When the breach was exposed in February, Google said that it "didn't anticipate this would happen".
Advocacy group Consumer Watchdog opposed the accord at a court hearing on Friday, saying it let Google off too easily. The group also suggested that the FTC's separate antitrust investigation of the world's largest search engine company may lack teeth.
"It implicates the procedure that will be used to resolve the antitrust case," Gary Reback, an attorney for Consumer Watchdog, said in an interview after the hearing. "A consent decree will be weak. It won't really make Google do anything."
The FTC has been investigating whether Google is abusing its dominance of the Internet for almost 20 months. The agency is prepared to sue if the company, based in Mountain View, California, fails to make an acceptable proposal, two people familiar with the matter said last week.
The record $22.5 million fine for the Safari breach is the FTC's first for an alleged violation of Internet privacy. Google deceived consumers and violated terms of a 2011 consent decree when it bypassed Apple software's privacy settings and planted cookies on Safari, which allowed it to track users' Internet browsing behavior, the FTC alleged.
(China Daily 11/19/2012 page14)