June 22, 2010

Google Data Snafu Under Investigation By States

Connecticut is at the head of a multi-state investigation into whether Google broke the law when it collected personal data off wireless networks around the globe, which the Internet search company says it did so inadvertently.

Conn. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal told Reuters on Monday that more than 30 states were on hand during a recent conference call on the issue. He said that consumers have a right to know what type of data had been collected, and whether procedures needed to be changed to protect against such occurrences in the future.

Google said in May that its Street View cars had been photographing streets around the world for years and accidentally collected personal information sent over wireless networks. A security expert at that time said the data could have included email messages and passwords.

In a statement, Blumenthal said: "My office will lead a multi-state investigation -- expected to involve a significant number of states -- into Google's deeply disturbing invasion of personal privacy."

He said that "consumers have a right and a need to know what personal information Google may have collected, how and why."

So far, Blumenthal expressed, Google's response to the situation "raises as many questions as it answers."

"Our investigation will consider whether laws may have been broken and whether changes to state and federal statutes may be necessary," he told Reuters.

The new probe adds to a barrage of investigations and class action lawsuits now placed against Google. The company also faces an informal investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission.

Google remains adamant that the data was accidentally collected by its Street View cars.

"It was a mistake for us to include code in our software that collected payload data, but we believe we did nothing illegal. We're working with the relevant authorities to answer their questions and concerns," Google spokeswoman Christine Chen said in an email to the news agency.

The company says it uses the location of Wi-Fi networks to enhance location-based smartphone services.

Google first announced that it's Street View cars were collecting wireless data in April, but said no personal data was collected. However, after a German audit, Google acknowledged in May that it had been mistakenly collecting "payload data."

In a letter sent to Google, Blumenthal asked the company when it realized that its Street View cars had collected "payload data," who audited or analyzed the Street View data collection program, and whether information was ever extracted from the payload data.

He also asked what precautions Google takes to ensure that its engineers do not insert code into Google products, and which engineer or engineers inserted the payload data code into the Street View cars' collection devices.


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