It’s Official: Google Settles “Wi-Spy” Case For $7 Million

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As reported last week Google has formally settled the so-called “WiSpy” case with 30 US state Attorneys General for $7 million. The agreement also contains some other non-monetary provisions that are, frankly, more meaningful.

The investigation began in 2010 concerning unauthorized collection of private emails and other “payload” data by Google Street View vehicles. The US Federal Communications Commission concluded its own investigation of the affair with no finding of liability against Google.

As mentioned, the $7 million settlement is insignificant for Google. However the press release outlines additional measures that Google must take to educate employees and consumers about data privacy:

The agreement also requires Google to: engage in a comprehensive employee education program about the privacy or confidentiality of user data; to sponsor a nationwide public service campaign to help educate consumers about securing their wireless networks and protecting personal information; and to continue to secure, and eventually destroy, the data collected and stored by its Street View vehicles nationwide between 2008 and March 2010. Google also collected similar data around the world…

Google agreed to corporate culture changes, including a corporate privacy program that requires in part direct notification of senior management, supervisors and legal advisors about the terms of the agreement; enhanced employee training about the importance of user privacy and the confidentiality of user data and the development and maintenance of policies and procedures for responding to identified events involving the unauthorized collection, use or disclosure of user data.

While there may be a couple of European investigations still winding down (privacy and advertising is still a very hot topic in Europe) the bulk of WiSpy cases around the world have now been closed or settled.

Postscript: Persistent Google critic Consumer Watchdog issued the following statement in response to the settlement announced earlier today:

The $7 million deal announced today ending a multi-state investigation of the Google Wi-Spy scandal does virtually nothing to thwart the Internet giant’s repeated privacy violations, Consumer Watchdog said.  The public interest group said Google should pay an amount that would affect its profits.

In addition to the $7 million to be divided among the 38 states and the District of Columbia that were involved in the investigation, the settlement deal provides that Google will create an educational campaign that features a YouTube video to teach consumers about protecting privacy on Wi-Fi networks.

“Asking Google to educate consumers about privacy is like asking the fox to teach the chickens how to ensure the security of their coop,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “The educational video will also drive consumers to the YouTube platform, where Google will just gather more data about them for its digital dossiers” . . .


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