Google fined, will beef up privacy training in Street View settlement

Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images - A Google Street View vehicle in Centreville, Va.

Google will institute enhanced employee privacy training and create a public campaign about the importance of securing wireless networks as part of a $7 million settlement with state officials who were investigating the company’s controversial Street View program, the officials announced Tuesday.

The settlement, elements of which were reported last week, closes the last of several U.S. investigations into allegations that Street View acted illegally by intercepting data transmitted over WiFi signals, collecting personally identifiable information such as e-mails and Web site visitations along the way.

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“While the $7 million is significant, the importance of this agreement goes beyond financial terms,” Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said in a statement. “Consumers have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This agreement recognizes those rights and ensures that Google will not use similar tactics in the future to collect personal information without permission from unsuspecting consumers.”

Google has long said that Street View’s collection of personal information was inadvertent and has apologized.

The program used cameras attached to cars to collect images throughout the world. It also sought to improve its location services by identifying WiFi signals that could provide points of reference for mapping and other services. The personal information was collected from the unsecured WiFi signals that the Street View cars identified.

“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,” spokeswoman Nadja Blagojevic said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Privacy advocates have called Street View’s intrusions severe and pressed for aggressive sanctions. The Federal Trade Commission, however, closed its case without a fine. The Federal Communications Commission issued a $25,000 fine, mainly for Google allegedly hindering the investigation.

Attorneys general from 38 states and the District of Columbia pressed ahead, eventually winning the $7 million settlement and several other concessions. Google does not acknowledge any violations of law in the settlement.

Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which has pushed for investigations and tracked their progress worldwide, called the settlement “one of the most significant fines for violations of Internet privacy to date.”

He added, “When the FCC and the FTC both failed to address the problems with Google Street View, the state attorneys general were able to act, and that’s significant.”

Other privacy advocates were not as impressed. American Consumer Institute President Steve Pociask issued a statement saying, “Google gets off easy once again with a paltry $7 million fine to over 30 states for collecting personal consumer information from unsecured WiFi networks. With revenue of $100 million a day, the fine is just a drop in the bucket and not enough to deter bad behavior.”

European officials acted far more forcefully, confiscating hard drives from Street View cars, fining Google and publishing detailed reports that embarrassed the company. The $7 million settlement with state attorneys general is the largest in the world dealing with Street View.

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