In a less than resounding settlement, 39 states and the District of Columbia have agreed to split $7 million from Google as a token penalty for its Street View mapping cars eavesdropping on unsecured wi-fi networks a few years ago.
“While the $7 million is significant, the importance of this agreement goes beyond financial terms," said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen. "Consumers have a reasonable expectation of privacy. 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,”
Google's Street View cars were equipped with antennae and software that the company acknowledged collected network identification information for use in future geolocation services. At the same time, Google collected and stored the content of Internet communications being transmitted over those unsecured business and personal wireless networks.
Google has always maintained that it was unaware the data was being collected. It has since disabled the equipment used to collect the payload data from the Street View vehicles.
Wi-Spy scandal wraps up
The agreement with the states appears to be the final chapter in the so-called Wi-Spy scandal, which has been a source of embarrassment for Google and consternation for privacy advocates for years.
While Google has always maintained the eavesdropping was accidental, it hasn't exactly won plaudits for its cooperation with investigators. The FCC fined Google $25,000 in 2012 for willfully obstructing the FCC’s investigation into the incident.
"Google's motto has always been 'Do no evil.' It should also be 'Do no eavesdropping,'" said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, last year. "Google needs to fully explain to Congress and the public what it knew about the collection of data through its Street View program."
Other key elements of the agreement with the states require Google to run an employee training program about privacy and confidentiality of user data and continue the program for at least 10 years. Google must also conduct a public service announcement campaign to help educate consumers about steps they may take to better secure their personal information while using wireless networks.
States participating in the settlement are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.