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Google to pay $7m fine for harvesting wireless data in the US

Warwick Ashford

Google has agreed to pay a $7m fine in the US for intercepting private Wi-Fi data without authoritsation using its Street View vehicles.

In a settlement agreement with 38 US states, Google is to destroy emails, passwords, and web histories that were collected by its Street View vehicles from 2008 to 2010.

At the time, Google claimed the data was collected unintentionally because experimental code was included by mistake in software used by the Street View vehicles.

At first Google said its Street View vehicles had collected only publicly broadcast WiFi network names and MAC addresses from WiFi routers, but was later forced to admit other data was also collected.

The admission led privacy watchdogs in several countries, including the UK, to launch investigations and demand changes.

Google said in a statement: "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."

"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 statement said.

Announcing the agreement, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said people had a right to protect their personal information from improper and unwanted use by corporations like Google.

The US attorneys-general pursued the case even after the US Federal Trade Commission halted its probe in 2010, saying it was satisfied that Google has addressed the matter by improving its privacy policies.

The agreement requires Google to launch an employee training programme about privacy and data use, according to the BBC.

The company must also fund a public service advertising campaign to educate consumers about how to secure their information on wireless networks.

Nick Pickles, head of UK privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said the US has handled the issue better than the UK, where Google was given a mere “slap on the wrist,” he said.

 

 


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