Back in early July it emerged that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Google were reportedly close to agreeing on a settlement stemming from charges that the search giant bypassed the security settings in Apple's Safari browser. The figure mentioned in these reports was in excess of $20 million, the largest penalty imposed by the FTC on a single company. Yesterday Reuters reported that the FTC had moved to vote on fining Google the $22.5 million mentioned in last month's report.
Reuters cites inside sources that say members of the FTC voted to to approve a consent decree that will allow Google to settle the investigation but admit no liability. The Mountain View company was being investigated after a February report in the Wall Street Journal accused Google of tracking users' web browsing via a loophole that allowed the company to circumvent Safari's default security settings.
Here's what happened: Apple's Safari browser is set to block third-party cookies by default, accepting cookies only from sites that a user visits or interacts with. However, there is an exception to this rule that allows cookies if you interact with a form or advertisement in certain ways. The Journal reported that Google and other ad networks took advantage of this exception by using an invisible form and its +1 Google+ recommendation system. Essentially, Google allowed Safari users who had signed into Google+ to interact with DoubleClick ads using an embedded '+1' button. This would then send off an invisible form that would have Safari think the user had provided permission for cookies to be stored.
At the time, Google said it used the workaround to enable signed-in G+ users the ability to +1 content around the web but was unaware it inadvertently enabled the advertising cookies. However, the FTC got involved, launching an investigation into whether Google had violated a previous agreement with the FTC by tracking cookies in this way. Now it looks like the two are ready to settle the issue.
One of Reuters' sources says official announcement is expected within days. We'll keep you posted.