AUSTIN – Texas, 37 other states and the District of Columbia today resolved their lengthy investigation into Google Inc.’s collection of personal information – including e-mail and search histories — from unsecured wireless routers at private residences and businesses. Although Google initially denied that its Street View vehicles were retrieving this private information, the Mountain View, Calif.-based conglomerate subsequently acknowledged that it had mistakenly engaged in this practice.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said Google violated Texans’ privacy rights and used vehicles to secretly collect information from unprotected wireless routers.
“Today’s agreement requires Google to destroy any personal data that was improperly collected and imposes important new privacy protections that govern the Street View program going forward,” Abbott said in the statement.
Google’s data collection effort was tied to its Street View project, which was designed to enhance its Google Maps platform by deploying a fleet of vehicles nationwide to photograph residences, businesses and other improvements in municipal neighborhoods, a press release said.
The vehicles were also outfitted with specialized data collection devices which scanned and stored payload data from wireless networks that were not password protected.
Initially, Google maintained that no emails, Web search histories or other personal information was being collected by Street View vehicles – and that the collected information was limited to data that merely identified the existence and location of a wireless network.
State investigators say they later determined Google did collect private information as it was transmitted over unencrypted WiFi networks for two years.
Although information transmitted on these wireless networks was collected from 2010 to 2012, Google initially said that it had not intended to collect and store network users’ private payload data.
Under today’s agreement, Google must pay $7 million and comply with following requirements:
• Destroy the “payload data” it collected.
• Notify network users and obtain their consent before using its Street View vehicles to collect any additional “payload data.”
• Implement an employee training program that highlights network users’ privacy and maintain the training program for the next 10 years; and
• Develop a public service campaign to educate network users about how to better secure their personal information while they are using wireless networks.
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