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Google Wi-Fi Data Collection Discussed by 30 Attorneys General

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The discussion reflects widening concern
Visitors look at a Google street view car on display at the CeBIT technology fair. Photographer: Ralph Orlowski/Bloomberg

June 16 (Bloomberg) -- Google Inc.’s collection of data via Wi-Fi networks was the subject of a conference call among law enforcement officials from 30 U.S. states, according to Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

“We’re looking to establish where, when, why, for how long and for what purpose there was this collection of information on wireless networks,” Blumenthal said yesterday in an interview. The call included representatives of the states’ attorneys general.

The discussion reflects widening concern among law enforcement over the way Google handles user information. The company said last month it mistakenly gathered data from open wireless networks while it was capturing images of streets and houses for its Street View service, a product that lets users view photographs of an area online.

Blumenthal has demanded that Mountain View, California-based Google inform his office of any data gathered from his state’s residents and businesses without permission, the attorney general said this month. Google owns the world’s largest search engine.

“This was a mistake, but we don’t believe we did anything illegal,” Google said in an e-mailed statement. “We’re working with the relevant authorities to answer their questions and concerns.”

Illinois was among the states that joined in last week’s call led by Blumenthal.

Illinois in Talks

“We did participate in a conference call with other attorneys general regarding Google,” said Robyn Ziegler, a spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Additional information wasn’t immediately available, she said.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission said last month that it is reviewing Google’s data gathering. An Oregon judge has ordered the company turn over similar data collected in that state, including any e-mails, files or digital phone records, according to court documents.

Also this month, Google said it was turning over to regulators in Germany, France and Spain data it mistakenly collected from unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Those countries are investigating Google’s data-gathering practices after the company said in May that its cars used to photograph roadsides for its Street View mapping service inadvertently recorded information.

Prosecutors in the German city of Hamburg opened a criminal investigation. Authorities in Italy, Canada and the Czech Republic also have begun inquiries.

The Oregon case is Vicki Van Valin v. Google, 10-00557, U.S. District Court, District of Oregon (Portland).

To contact the reporters on this story: Karen Freifeld in New York at kfreifeld@bloomberg.net; Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at jrosenblatt@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net; Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net.

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