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

NEWS ANALYSIS: Google has accepted a settlement that requires it to pay $7 million to the states involved in the Street View WiFi snooping investigation. It’s a small sum for an issue that had the potential to cause serious damage.

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.

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger is a longtime freelance contributor to several technology and business publications. Over his career, Don has written about everything from geek-friendly gadgetry to issues of privacy...