Google Faces Legal Scrutiny over WiFi Privacy Snafu

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-06-16

Connecticut State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and his counterparts in about 30 states want to know whether Google broke U.S. laws by collecting data from WiFi networks.

Google's Street View vehicles, a team of cars and vans that rove streets to map out real-life views of the terrain, accidentally collected 600GB of information fragments, including data concerning users' browsing habits and e-mail content.

Google said in a letter to U.S. representatives June 9 that it did not use any of the data it collected and broke no laws.

Nevertheless, Blumenthal and his peers discussed in a conference call June 10 whether or not to pool their resources to investigate Google, with Blumenthal leading the charge, according to the New York Times. 

A spokesperson for Blumenthal's office declined to comment, but confirmed the Times' story to be accurate.

The call came two days after Blumenthal said Google admitted to collecting WiFi data from users in Connecticut from 2008 to 2010.

Blumenthal said in a statement this action was disturbing and demanded additional inquiry.

"Google needs to better explain how this practice happened; exactly when, where and why. Key questions include how Google learned that its software was gathering unencrypted data and why the company kept the information," he said.

Blumenthal, who has also challenged Facebook, MySpace and other social networks over data privacy issues, added, "We will consider the legality of Google's WiFi collection practices. Google's actions raise troubling and profound questions about privacy and whether laws need to be clarified or changed."

The Times also said New York State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky asked Andrew Cuomo, the New York state attorney general who is running for governor, for a formal investigation into whether Google violated criminal laws.

Google is also being taken to task overseas in about 30 other regions where it collected data. The search engine is turning over data collected in Germany, Spain and France.

Google is holding to the company line, telling eWEEK what it has said several times before: "This was a mistake, but we don't believe we did anything illegal. We're continuing working with the relevant authorities to answer their questions and concerns."

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