The Wall Street Journal reported on March 16, 2012 that U.S. and E.U. regulators are investigating Google for bypassing the privacy settings of millions of users of Apple’s Safari browser.  They also report that Google stopped the practice after being contacted by the Wall Street Journal. 

The WSJ first reported that Google was using special computer code to install tracking files, aka, cookies on computers, iPhones and iPads, even if the devices were set to set to block this practice.

The European investigation is being led by France and includes other pan-European countries.  The U.S. investigation includes some states, such as New York and Connecticut, as well as the Feds.  The FTC is specifically investigating whether the practice violates its agreement with Google that was reached last year.  The penalty for violating that agreement is $16,000 per violation.  Since this could potentially affect millions of users, the fine could reach large numbers quite quickly.

The reason for collecting the data by using “cookies” is about targeting audiences and selling them to advertisers who are willing to pay big money to reach highly targeted users.  It is the battle for these consumers, that fuels the Google vs. Facebook feud.  It is also the reason Google needs Google+ to flourish.

The investigation could take years or Google could settle relatively quickly to get past the events.  We’ll keep an eye out and keep you informed.