Privacy Law

Google to pay $7M over Street View data scoop, critics call huge sum a pittance for Web giant

In one of the largest settlements ever reached over an Internet privacy violation involving unauthorized access into consumer accounts, Google has agreed to pay $7 million to a coalition of state attorneys general over what the search engine goliath has called an inadvertent data scoop during the compilation of photographs for its Street View map project.

While taking photographs for the U.S. portion of the global project from specially equipped cars, workers also obtained data from unencrypted wireless networks, including passwords, email and medical and financial records, the New York Times (reg. req.) reports.

Although Google said the privacy violation was accidental and the data was discarded without ever being used, “Consumers have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen in a Tuesday statement announcing the settlement. “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.”

Critics contend that the huge settlement is a pittance for Google, given the money being made by the Internet giant. But the settlement is far more than the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission obtained. Another New York Times article last year discussed the status of those matters.

“It is the public opprobrium, not the money, that counts in these cases,” law professor David Vladeck of Georgetown University told the Times concerning news of the $7 million settlement. “And I think people were rightly unhappy with Google’s collecting the information in the first place and then Google’s lame explanation.”

President Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center also praised the settlement, the Washington Post reports.

This was “one of the most significant fines for violations of Internet privacy to date,” Rotenberg said. “When the FCC and the FTC both failed to address the problems with Google Street View, the state attorneys general were able to act, and that’s significant.”

Additional and related coverage: “Google Admits Street View Cars Snagged E-Mail & Passwords, Is Sued re Saved Search Queries” “Google Faces FCC Probe of Street View Data Collection Practices” “It Isn’t Necessarily Big Brother, But Somebody Is Potentially Watching, Virtually All the Time”

NBC News: “Google pays $7 million to settle ‘Wi-Spy’ case filed by states”

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