Google Inc. agreed to pay $7 million to settle a multistate probe over the collection of data from unsecured wireless networks across the U.S. by vehicles taking images for the company’s Street View product.
The Internet search company signed the agreement with 38 states and the District of Columbia to resolve consumer protection and privacy claims, said the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office, which led the eight-state committee that investigated the matter and negotiated the company’s compliance.
“Consumers have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said in a statement. “This agreement recognizes those rights and ensures that Google will not use similar tactics in the future to collect personal information without permission from unsuspecting consumers.”
The agreement requires Mountain View, California-based Google to educate employees about the privacy or confidentiality of user data and sponsor a nationwide public-service campaign to teach customers about securing wireless networks and protecting their personal information, according to the statement.
Google also agreed to continue to secure and eventually destroy data collected and stored by its Street View vehicles in the U.S. between 2008 and March 2010, according to Jepsen’s statement. The antenna-equipped vehicles collected network identification information along with data being transmitted over unsecured wireless networks as they were driving by.
The data may have included e-mail communications, confidential or private information that was being transmitted to or from the user at the time the vehicles were passing by and the locations of requested Web pages, according to Jepsen’s statement.
Google said the information about network identification was collected for use in future location services and that the company’s executives were unaware the vehicles were gathering other data, according to Jepsen’s statement.
The company has disabled or removed equipment and software that allowed the vehicles to collect information about wireless networks and data being sent over them, and agreed not to use the vehicles to gather additional data without permission.
Google, operator of the world’s largest search engine, has been grappling with scrutiny by government officials around the world over how it handles private information. The Federal Communications Commission fined Google $25,000 last year for not cooperating with an investigation into the company’s collection of the data.
Google said in May 2010 that it would stop using Wi-Fi information for Street View, which displays pictures of streets on Google Maps. At the time, the company said that it had collected the information by mistake.
Google fell 0.9 percent yesterday to $827.61 in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The shares have climbed 17 percent this year.