Google fined $7 million over hotspot data grab

Google fined $7 million over hotspot data grab

Google agreed to pay a USD 7 million fine in the United States for stealthily collecting data from private Wi-Fi hotspots in a mapping service slip that irked an array of countries.

In a legal settlement with attorneys general in 38 states, the Internet giant also agreed to ramp up employee training about data privacy and back a nationwide campaign to teach people about securing wireless networks.

Word that vehicles snapping panoramic photos in neighbourhoods for Street View images in Google's online maps were grabbing data from unsecured hotspots triggered investigations in at least a dozen countries, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

At least nine countries have found Google violated local laws, said EPIC.

In the settlement announced yesterday, Google again promised that email, passwords, web histories and other data captured by Street View vehicles in the United States between 2008 and 2010 will be destroyed.

"This settlement addresses privacy issues and protects the rights of people whose information was collected without their permission," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.

"Consumers have a right to protect their vital personal and financial information from improper and unwanted use by corporations like Google."

Google has since stopped collecting the data and has agreed not to do so without consent, the statement said.

"We work hard to get privacy right at Google," the California-based Internet giant said in an email response to an AFP enquiry.

"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."

Nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog dismissed the fine and conditions in the agreement as insignificant for the multi-billion-dollar company.

"The USD 7 million penalty is pocket change for Google," said Consumer Watchdog privacy project director John Simpson.

"Asking Google to educate consumers about privacy is like asking the fox to teach the chickens how to ensure the security of their coop."

A Federal Communications Commission investigation of Street View ended in May of last year.

The bureau concluded that it could not accuse Google of breaking US law but wanted the company penalised for not cooperating quickly enough.

Google agreed to pay a USD 25,000 penalty demanded by the FCC but maintained that fault for delay in the probe rested with the federal agency and not the Internet firm.

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