March 13, 2013
Hefty Penalties For Google Street View Wi-Fi Violations
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Google has agreed to pay a $7 million fine for gathering emails, passwords, web histories and other personal data from unsuspecting home wireless users during its Street View mapping project.
The fine will be split between 37 states and the District of Columbia, with each receiving $192,000. Google also agreed to destroy the personal data it gathered as its Street View cars photographed neighborhoods from 2008 to 2010. It will also run an employee training program on protecting consumer information for at least the next ten years, and conduct a national advertising campaign to educate consumers on how to better protect their private information.
"We work hard to get privacy right at Google. But in this case we didn't, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue," Google spokeswoman Niki Fenwick said in a statement to the New York Times.
However, the company is adamant that it never used the private data its systems obtained, or even looked at it.
"The project leaders never wanted this data, and didn't use it or even look at it. We're pleased to have worked with Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen and the other state attorneys general to reach this agreement."
The problem began when a “rogue” engineer at Google activated the wireless collection system on the company´s Street View cars, allowing the system to tap into millions of unsecured Wi-Fi networks to obtain personal information from users as the cars cruised down the nation´s roads. Some of this data was highly personal in nature, such as private medical and financial records.
In June 2010, Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut´s attorney general at the time, began an inquiry into the matter by leading a multistate probe into what he called “Google´s deeply disturbing invasion of personal privacy.”
In December of that year, Mr. Blumenthal kicked off a civil investigative demand to obtain data about the matter from Google, which Google never provided.
However, the issue was later resolved by Google´s admission that they had gathered “the kinds of data we had alleged they were gathering,” said Mr. Jepsen, Connecticut´s current attorney general.
The Federal Communications Commission said the Google engineer who had activated the data collection system had collaborated with others, and had even attempted to inform his superiors of the matter. In other words, the engineer was more of an unsupervised employee, rather than a “rogue” one.
In a statement about Tuesday´s settlement, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the agreement “addresses privacy issues and protects the rights of people whose information was collected without their permission.”
Tuesday´s settlement is only the latest involving Google´s Street View project. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, which monitors the “Wi-Spy” issue worldwide, said at least 12 other countries have investigated the matter, nine of which have found Google guilty of violating their laws.
The states participating in the current settlement are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.