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Google to pay $7 million to settle Street View data collection privacy case

Published Mar 12th, 2013 2:14PM EDT
Google Street View

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Google’s (GOOG) Street View data collection practices have gotten it into legal hot water throughout the world and on Tuesday the company agreed to pay $7 million to settle charges leveled  by 38 state attorneys general that it improperly collected personal data from unsecured wireless networks from around the United States. Google maintains that it was unaware that some of its Street View employees were collecting the data, which it admits included “URLs of requested Web pages, partial or complete email communications, and any confidential or private information being transmitted to or from the network user while the Street View cars were driving down streets.” As part of the settlement, Google will also have to run a training program for at least the next decade instructing employees on how to respect users’ privacy while collecting data from Street View and other services. A press release on the settlement issued by the Massachusetts State Attorney General’s office is posted below.


Massachusetts to Receive More than $327,000 in Multistate Settlement; Agreement Includes PSA to Educate Consumers

 BOSTON – Internet giant Google has agreed to pay $7 million to settle claims of collecting data from unsecured wireless networks nationwide while taking photographs for its Street View service between 2008 and March 2010, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today. Massachusetts will receive more than $327,000 as part of the settlement.

AG Coakley joins 37 other states and the District of Columbia in the settlement, stating that Google’s Street View cars were equipped with antennae and open-source software that the company acknowledged collected WiFi network identification information for use in future geolocation services. At the same time, Google collected and stored data frames and other “payload data” being transmitted over those unsecured business and personal wireless networks.

While Google said it was unaware the payload data was being collected, the company acknowledges that the information may have included URLs of requested Web pages, partial or complete email communications, and any confidential or private information being transmitted to or from the network user while the Street View cars were driving down streets.

“This hard-fought settlement recognizes and protects the privacy rights of people whose information was collected without their permission,” AG Coakley said. “Google will now strengthen its privacy protocols and further educate consumers about securing their personal information while online.”

Google has since disabled or removed the equipment and software used to collect the payload data from its Street View vehicles, and agreed not to collect any additional information without consumer notice and consent.

The information collected was segregated and secured, and under terms of the agreement, will be destroyed as soon as legally practicable. Further, Google has agreed that the payload data was not used, and will not be used, in any product or service, and that the information collected in the United States was not disclosed to a third party.

Google will also be required to run — for at least 10 years — a training program for employees about privacy and confidentiality of user data, and will conduct a public service advertising campaign aimed at educating consumers about steps they may take to better secure their personal information while using wireless networks.

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.