Google fined $7 million for Street View data snooping

Google has agreed to pay 38 US states a total of $7 million for allowing its Street View cars to collect personal data from WiFi networks without permission.

The issue was first raised by German data protection authorities back in 2010. At first, Google denied that its Street View cars, which take photos for its online mapping service, had collected data including email addresses and password.

It later admitted that the data was collected but insisted it was the result of a "rogue" engineer at the company.

In the US, a two-year investigation was led by the state of Connecticut, on behalf of 37 other states.

In an agreement announced yesterday, Google promised to delete any personal data collected about residents of any of the 38 states. It also agreed to educate its employees and run a nationwide campaign to inform consumers of how to secure wireless networks.

In a statement, Google said it was "pleased" to have reached the agreement.

"We work hard to get privacy right at Google," it said in a statement. "But in this case we didn't, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue.

"The project leaders never wanted this data, and didn't use it or even look at it," the company said.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said the $7 million fine was "significant" for Google, but added that "the importance of this agreement goes beyond financial terms". 

"Consumers have a reasonable expectation of privacy," he said. "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."

According to the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC), Google has now been found guilty of violating laws in "at least" nine countries in collecting data for its Street View service.

In the UK, the Information Commissioner's Officer had let Google off with a warning and an order to improve its privacy practices on the understanding that the data had been collected by mistake. However, last year a report by the US Federal Communications Commission found that multiple Google employees had known about the data snooping.

The ICO therefore reopened its investigation on the matter, but has yet to report its findings.

Google's annual revenue in 2012 was $2.98 billion.

Ed Reeves

Ed Reeves co-founded Moneypenny with his sister Rachel Clacher in 2000. The company handles more than 9 million calls a year for 7,000 UK businesses and employs almost 400 members of staff. Reeves remains...

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