Google has agreed to pay a $7 million fine after a three year investigation by a coalition of state attorneys general found the search giant's Street View vehicles had collected private data from home and business networks.
Between 2008 and 2010, the Street View vehicles, which were equipped with antennae and open-source software, collected names, passwords, addresses, emails and other personal information from millions of unencrypted home and business Wi-Fi networks, said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, who spearheaded the investigation.
Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia are included in the settlement.
Jules Polonetsky, director and co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum, said the fine sends a mixed message.
"Most of us would be enormously unhappy if, as in the old days, we had to wait three minutes while our GPS searched for satellites," he said. Google took information it should not have, he said, "but the big picture here is we all seem to be really happy making this tradeoff."
The $7 million-dollar fine is pocket change to Google, say analysts -- based on projected revenues this year of $61 billion, the company will bring in $7 million per hour. But its reputation has taken a hit; its informal slogan in its early years was "Don't be evil."
Google has agreed to start a nationwide educational campaign to teach people how best to protect themselves on wireless networks. The search giant said it would also educate its employees on user privacy. And it promised to destroy the data it had collected, unless a lawsuit requires that it be preserved. Several class-action suits are still being appealed.
When the intrusion first came to light, Google blamed it on a rogue engineer who set up a data-collection program in equipment that was only meant to detect basic information about the locations of local Wi-Fi networks. The FCC investigated and said last year that some Google managers knew about the data-mining, but didn't stop it.
"We work hard to get privacy right at Google. But in this case we didn't, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue," a Google spokesperson said in a statement to ABCNews.com.
"The project leaders never wanted this data, and didn't use it or even look at it. We're pleased to have worked with Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen and the other state attorneys general to reach this agreement."
Jepsen, whose state will get $520,823 from the settlement, said he is pleased with the result.
"Consumers have a reasonable expectation of privacy," he said. "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."
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