Google fined $7 million over Street View privacy breaches

“Google has agreed to pay $7 million as a result of an investigation brought by a coalition of state attorneys general, officials said Tuesday, in one of the largest fines for violating privacy in the digital age,” David Streitfeld reports for The New York Times. “The fine stems from the Street View case, where Google deployed special vehicles to photograph the houses and offices lining the world’s streets. But for several years the company was also secretly collecting personal information — e-mails, medical and financial records, passwords — as it cruised by. It was data-scooping from millions of unencrypted wireless networks.”

“As part of the settlement, Google agreed that it had acted improperly and agreed to engage in a comprehensive employee education program about privacy and to inform the public about securing wireless networks and protecting personal information. Thirty-eight states participated in the investigation,” Streitfeld reports. “Google has repeatedly been faulted by regulators for privacy violations. Last summer the search giant paid $22.5 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it had bypassed the privacy settings on Apple’s Safari browser. That fine, the largest civil penalty ever levied by the F.T.C., came after Google agreed to be audited by the agency for 20 years for privacy violations related to a social networking feature.”

Streitfeld reports, “The attorneys general’s fine is a pittance for Google, which has a net income of about $32 million a day. Google initially denied any data had been collected from unknowing individuals, then sought to downplay what it had and fought with regulators who wanted to examine the data. ‘We work hard to get privacy right at Google,’ said Niki Fenwick, a spokeswoman. ‘But in this case we didn’t.’ She added that Google has since improved its ‘systems.'”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: In our headline initially, we transposed the “n” and the “e” in fined. Freudian.

Do know evil.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” for the heads up.]

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Google Street View cars grabbed locations of cellphones, computers – July 26, 2011
Glenn Beck: Be wary of Google, they way they think is creepy (with video) – February 17, 2011
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FCC cites Android ‘openness’ as reason for neutered ‘Net Neutrality’ – December 22, 2010
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Google CEO Schmidt: If you don’t like being in Google Street View then ‘just move’ – October 28, 2010
Consumer Watchdog ads mock Google CEO Eric Schmidt (with video) – September 2, 2010
Google CEO Schmidt: Change your name to escape ‘cyber past’ – August 18, 2010
Wired: Google, CIA Invest in ‘future’ of Web monitoring – July 29, 2010
37 states join probe into Google’s questionable Wi-Fi data collection – July 22, 2010
Google Street View Wi-Fi data included passwords and email – June 18, 2010

18 Comments

  1. If Google had a million dollars for every time someone in MDN comments said that Street View was helpful sometimes, this fine would be a slap on the wrist.

    Hmm…

    1. Haven’t you heard the Department of Justice’s new policy…

      Too big to fail / Too big to prosecute.

      Corporations can do anything they please and only receive a “firm” slap on the wrist.

    1. It establishes a pattern by which future investigations can depict a pattern of willful misconduct. When that happens the defense that some lowly employee goofed carries no weight, and the fines/sanctions get much, much larger.

  2. I don’t use any Google service on any of my Macs, iPhones or iPads. I don’t care how much better Google search is over competing services, I refuse to give Google ANYTHING. I don’t expect Google to miss me, but that isn’t the point.

    So far I have found competing services to be as good as, or in some cases better than, Google results. My favorite Maps app is Apple Maps, which was recently found to be more accurate than Google Maps. For search I use Bing and Duck Duck Go. For email I use OSX Mail.

    1. Flawed response. OS X Mail is an email client, not an email service. I use Mail for all of my Google-hosted email accounts. I assume you mean you use Apple’s iCloud which is elegantly integrated into Mail because it’s a basic IMAP-based email account? Correct me if that assumption is wrong.

    2. Google is ubiquitous. While you may prefer other services, Google’s core competencies are superior to every other experience.

      So, you’re missing out on some of the web. And, your buddies at Apple won’t be elected pope anytime soon either.

  3. Someone’s aluminum foil hat is leaking and they need to triple layer it again. The evil big brother is out to get you and do something terrible with the information that is claimed to be taken from you. You are all going to be forced to do things by the evil corporation. Get you guns out, they will protect you from this slightly defined evil. If you don’t believe this, you aren’t paranoid enough. Run in fear. Run amok.

  4. Google spokewoman Niki Fenwick claims that Google has since improved its “systems.” How? By instituting an honor system? Sure thing; everybody knows Google is all about trust and good intentions. 🙁 By educating the public about wireless encryption? Righto, Google wouldn’t dare fiddle with decryption algorithms, and no way could they guess that your password is the name of your pet cat. 🙁

    Sorry, I don’t buy it. The fines are not commensurate with the crimes, and until they are, Google will not be able to resist its mock-innocent global kleptomania.

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