Google owns up to privacy violations in Street View settlement

The company will pay a $7 million fine for collecting personal data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks

Some of Google Inc.’s cars were snapping up a lot more than pictures during the company’s Street View mapping project—they collected personal data, such as emails and passwords, from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks as they drove by. Google initially claimed that a rogue employee was responsible for the data collection, but the Federal Communications Commission’s 17-month inquiry into the Street View project found that the engineer had told at least one superior what he was doing, and that seven other engineers could also have known about it. 

The 800-pound gorilla of a technology company admitted to these privacy violations in a settlement with 38 state attorneys general on March 12. Google received a $7 million fine as part of the deal, which also requires the company to set up an internal privacy program and a privacy public awareness campaign.

Simpson is less convinced that the requirements imposed on Google will inspire the company to better protect privacy. “The attorneys general … are going to put the fox in charge of teaching the chickens how to make their coop more secure,” he says.

Larry Page, Google’s CEO, has said he wants the company to act like a startup, which, according to Manatt, Phelps & Phillips Partner Marc Roth, means taking risks. “These companies [are under] increasing pressure to produce results and to justify stock prices. They’re going to continue to be aggressive in their [data] uses,” Roth says.

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