Google's WiFi Snooping Settlement: 10 Reasons It Paid $7 Million

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2013-03-13

Google's WiFi Snooping Settlement: 10 Reasons It Paid $7 Million

Google has settled a longstanding legal investigation that involved complaints about the WiFi-data snooping that was conducted by its Street View service. The company, along with attorneys general at the majority of states in the United States, agreed to pay $7 million to settle outstanding complaints about privacy law violations. The company also said that it wouldn’t let something like it happen again.

So, what happened? It’s perhaps a long story that began years ago. Google’s Street View cars, while snapping photos of neighborhoods around the United States, were also recording WiFi information and data transmitted by unencrypted wireless networks in homes and businesses as they passed.

A “rogue engineer,” the company alleges, was collecting that data, and it was never used for illegal purposes. But the damage was done. Many people were offended that Google recorded personal WiFi data along with Street View images and geolocation data. Attorneys general for 37 states got involved in the investigation of alleged privacy violated resulting from the Street View data records. Now Google is left to pay out some cash to make it right.

But what about the Google WiFi-snooping incident do you need to know? With a deal now in place, it’ll likely be swept under the rug and forgotten. But here are the issues that led to the settlement so people who run their own WiFi networks can understand what Google’s actions meant to their personal privacy.

1. Google captured WiFi data during Street View surveys

Street View sits at the center of Google’s WiFi snooping incident. The data-recording technology, which allows Google Maps users to see what it would be like to be “driving” on a particular road, was in full use during the process. But as it captured images, it was also capturing sensitive data transmitted by unencrypted WiFi networks.

2. Google is blaming it on a “rogue engineer”

Google says that it did not intentionally collect the data from the wireless networks. Instead, the company said that a “rogue engineer” had found a way to collect the information and make the company look bad. Unfortunately, Google says it didn’t catch that rogue engineer until it was too late.

3. It went on for a long time

Oh, and how late it was. According to the legal documents filed in the case, Google’s Street View was collecting personal information between 2008 and 2010. This included millions of emails, business data and other sensitive personal information, which left Google with a lot of explaining to do.

4. The fine seems like a pittance

Although Google’s technology was able to collect all kinds of information, the company’s payment of $7 million to as many as 37 states seems like a pittance. After all, the company was able to obtain some of the most private information on a person’s home network. The tiny fine is immaterial to the search giant. But it’s a major issue for Google critics.

Google's WiFi Snooping Settlement: 10 Reasons It Paid $7 Million

5. Sensitive data was taken

All of this talk of sensitive data being stolen fails to mention perhaps the most important point: what was taken? According to Google, everything from WiFi network names to email information to passwords was collected. As far as we know, though, none of that was used against the victims.

6. The settlement was reached with a ton of states

As of this writing, 37 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have reached a settlement with Google. That should put an end to the issue, since those were the states in which the data was allegedly collected.

7. Google will launch an education campaign

Although Google was forced to admit wrongdoing and pay a fine, the company has another requirement: it must launch an education campaign informing the country how to safeguard their wireless networks from unwanted intrusion. Yes, Google has become the world’s educator on wireless networks.

8. Google is destroying the data

Since Google has admitted that there was a problem and the lawyers have moved on, the company is now cleared to destroy all of the data it collected. Google has promised that it will not keep anything and will ensure that it will never be recoverable.

9. Google isn’t fighting it

It’s important to point out that Google is not going to fight the ruling in any way. In a statement, the company said that it was wrong this time around, adding that “we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue.” In other words, don’t expect to hear much from Google on this any longer.

10. There will be no change to Street View

Street View itself was not a target in this lawsuit. That’s important. When news first broke that Google had been collecting information from users, there was some speculation that Street View could fall victim to the lawsuits. For now, Street View will remain open and a key component in Google’s mapping services.

Follow Don Reisinger on Twitter by clicking here

Rocket Fuel