Google Inc. (GOOG)’s breach of Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s Safari Internet browser is under investigation by U.S. regulators to determine whether it caused consumers to be misled about privacy safeguards, a person familiar with the matter said.
The Federal Trade Commission is examining whether Mountain View, California-based Google effectively deceived consumers by planting so-called cookies on Safari, bypassing Apple software’s privacy settings, said the person, who lacked authorization to speak publicly on the matter and declined to be identified.
The cookies allowed Google to aim targeted advertising at Safari users. The FTC is charged with protecting consumers against “unfair and deceptive” practices under the law that created the agency.
The FTC also is looking at whether Google violated a consent decree with the commission signed last year, the person said.
That settlement was reached after Google agreed it used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy policies in introducing the Buzz social-networking service in 2010. The 20- year settlement bars Google from misrepresenting how it handles user information and requires the company to follow policies that protect consumer data in new products.
Ready to Cooperate
“We will of course cooperate with any officials who have questions,” said Chris Gaither, a spokesman for Google, which has acknowledged it ended up placing the advertising cookies on Safari after opening a connection to give signed-in users access to a Google function. “But it’s important to remember that we didn’t anticipate this would happen.”
Google has been removing the files since discovering the slip, Gaither said in an e-mailed statement. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that Google is being investigated by U.S. and European Union regulators for using Safari users’ information and bypassing the Apple software’s privacy settings.
France’s data-protection agency, the National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties, or CNIL, is preparing a list of questions to send to Google next week, a spokeswoman for the agency said today. She declined to comment on whether the questionnaire would cover the Safari cookies, and declined to be cited by name, citing CNIL policy. CNIL also acts on behalf of other European regulators.
European regulators “are very concerned, because they are persuaded that these new rules are not at all compliant with the existing European laws,” European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said March 1, when Google’s privacy changes took effect.