Google agreed on Tuesday to pay a $7 million fine to 38 states for violating people’s privacy with its Street View mapping project.
As part of the agreement with the states’ attorneys general, the high-tech giant also agreed to create a nationwide campaign that would teach people about securing Wi-Fi hotspots and a training program for its own workers on privacy issues, Market Watch reported.
Google acknowledged in the settlement that the Street View project picked up personal information from unsuspecting computer users, including passwords and emails. The settlement included the requirement that Google destroy the data it collected from unsecured wireless networks between 2008 and 2010.
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“We work hard to get privacy right at Google, but in this case we didn’t, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue,” company spokeswoman Niki Fenwick told The New York Times.
Google has had previous issues surrounding privacy concerns. The Federal Trade Commission fined the company $22.5 million last year for bypassing privacy settings in the Web browser Safari.
Google will likely face new privacy concerns over its newest innovation, Google Glass, a wearable computer in the form of glasses, the Times reports.
“If you use Google Glass to record a couple whispering to each other in Starbucks, have you violated their privacy?” Scott Cleland, a consultant for Google’s competitors and a consumer watchdog, asked. “Well, 38 states just said they have a problem with the unauthorized collection of people’s data.”
Complaints have led to multiple enforcement actions in recent years and a spate of worldwide investigations into the way the mapping project also collected the personal data of private computer users.
“Google puts innovation ahead of everything and resists asking permission,” said Scott Cleland, a consultant for Google’s competitors and a consumer watchdog whose blog maintains a close watch on Google’s privacy issues. “But the states are throwing down a marker that they are watching and there is a line the company shouldn’t cross.”
George Jepsen, the Connecticut attorney general who led the states’ investigation, said that he was hopeful the settlement would produce a new Google.
“This is the industry giant,” he said. “It is committing to change its corporate culture to encourage sensitivity to issues of personal data privacy.”
The applause was not universal, however. Consumer Watchdog, another privacy monitor and frequent Google critic, said that “asking Google to educate consumers about privacy is like asking the fox to teach the chickens how to ensure the security of their coop.”
Niki Fenwick, a Google spokeswoman, said on Tuesday that “we work hard to get privacy right at Google, but in this case we didn’t, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue.”
Last summer, the Federal Trade Commission fined Google $22.5 million for bypassing privacy settings in the Safari browser, the largest civil penalty ever levied by the F.T.C.
In 2011, Google agreed to be audited for 20 years by the F.T.C. after it admitted to using deceptive tactics when starting its Buzz social network. That agreement included several rather vague privacy provisions.
The new settlement, which requires Google to set up a privacy program within six months, is more specific. Among its requirements, Google must hold an annual privacy week event for employees. It also must make privacy certification programs available to select employees, provide refresher training for its lawyers overseeing new products and train its employees who deal with privacy matters.
Several provisions involve outreach. Google must create a video for YouTube explaining how people can easily encrypt their data on their wireless networks and run a daily online ad promoting it for two years. It must run educational ads in the biggest newspapers in the 38 participating states, which besides Connecticut also include New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, Ohio and Texas.
“There are minimum benchmarks Google has to meet,” said Matthew Fitzsimmons, an assistant Connecticut attorney general who negotiated with the company. “This will impact how Google rolls out products and services in the future.”
Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center said the agreement was “a significant privacy decision by the state attorneys general,” adding that “it shows the ongoing importance of the states’ A.G.’s in protecting the privacy rights of Internet users.”
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