If there’s one issue that most people agree on, it’s their right to privacy. We don’t want to relinquish anything that is personal and private unless we’ve given consent to the person or organization requesting the information.
That’s why Google (News - Alert) drew the ire of many people when it was revealed that it was collecting data from unsecured wireless network nationwide, as part of its Street View mapping service.
Google’s explanation for this was that a rogue engineer was responsible for collecting the data. The settlement amount indicates that this must’ve been the case, and therefore did not punish the company for this infraction with a large financial settlement.
Besides paying the $7-million fine, Google will launch a consumer education campaign that will be deployed nationwide for educating consumers on how to protect private information. The information gathered during the project also must be destroyed, and a new employee training program for the company’s employees about consumer privacy protection must be implemented for the next 10 years.
Although Google was providing a great service by providing Street View images of cities around the world, it was capturing more than images. An Internet receiver located in the vehicle collected large amounts of data from private Wi-Fi networks in homes and businesses. It collected Media Access Control (MAC) addresses, which are hardware addresses each containing a unique identity for each node of a network; and Network Service set Identifiers (SSSID), user-assigned network ID names for private wireless networks and Wi-Fi payload data including e-mails, visited websites URLs, user names and passwords.
Google’s statement is a sigh of relief with the right amount of contrition: "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."
Countries around the world where Google was implementing the Street View platform also launched their investigation into this violation. Many of them found that Google violated applicable data protection laws by using Wi-Fi interception to access private data from individuals and businesses.