Attorneys General in Connecticut, Australia Challenge Google on WiFi Incident

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-06-07 Print this article Print

Google's WiSpy incident in which its Google Maps Street View cars accidentally collected bits of users' e-mail, browsing habits and other information from unsecured WiFi networks is continuing to get legs.

As Google prepares to hand over some of the 600GB of data it collected to Germany, France and Spain, attorney generals in the United States and abroad are calling for Google to provide more information.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is running for the U.S. Senate, asked whether Google's Street View cars collected personal information transmitted over wireless networks without permission while photographing Connecticut streets and homes.

Blumenthal, whose aggressive stance on consumer rights rivals that of former New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, ratcheted up the rhetoric in this June 7 post:

Driveby data sweeps of unsecured WIFI networks here would be deeply disturbing, a potentially impermissible, pernicious invasion of privacy. Consumers and businesses rightly expect Google to respect their privacy, not invade it by vacuuming up confidential data.

I am demanding [that] Google reveal any WIFI data collection in Connecticut. If it occurred, the company should provide my office a full explanation, including what it gathered, when, where and why. My office can evaluate whether laws were broken. Concealed Internet capture by Google's high tech cars may violate valid expectations of privacy -- making it possibly illegal.

Asked for a response to this aggressive statement, a Google spokesperson told eWEEK: "We're continuing to work with the relevant authorities to answer their questions and concerns."

Google's latest privacy brouhaha is proving more serious than the Google Buzz mess Google kicked off in February, when it exposed users' Gmail contacts to the world.

Must be the universal appeal. Street View grabbed users' Internet data from 33 regions around the world. Buzz basically exposed users' social graphs. That's still a questionable practice, but not as serious as the WiSpy mistake.

The Australian Federal Police are in fact weighing whether or not Google's WiSpy gaffe was a possible breach of the telecommunications interception act, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Attorney General Robert McClelland said the investigation would examine whether Google employees acted illegally when they collected the data. Google itself is investigating the actions of the employee who wrote the software that collected users' data.

"In light of concerns having been raised by the public, my department thought there were issues of substance that were raised that require police investigation,'' McClelland told reporters.

This is, to borrow Blumenthal's dramatic phrase, the "dark side of the new Internet era," but I'm sure it was just a terrible mistake on Google's part. The fact that it went on seemingly undetected for three years doesn't help matters.

The actions by states' attorneys general over this incident are just the beginning of what will be a long wave of regulatory scrutiny.

Google doesn't want this but can't possibly avoid it given its size and the way politicians, pundits and, of course, regulators, are labeling it the next Microsoft. |

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