Google will pay a seven million dollar fine for intercepting information sent over unprotected wireless networks. Google Street View vehicles had gathered sensitive information in neighborhoods around the world.
Google agreed to the $7 million (5.4 million euros) fine to settle a lawsuit brought against it by 38 US states, alleging that cameras on its Google Street View vehicles had illegally intercepted information such as emails and computer passwords which had been sent over unsecured wireless Networks.
"While the 7 million dollars is significant, the importance of this agreement goes beyond financial terms," Connecticut Attorney General George Jespen said after the settlement.
"Consumers have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This agreement recognizes those rights and ensures that Google will not use similar tactics in the future.”
Google had equipped vehicles with 360-degree cameras to take street-level pictures that could be called up on maps, but the equipment was also able to detect Wi-Fi networks for location verification.
From 2008 to 2010 Google collected data from inadvertent households and local merchants who had set up Wi-Fi networks that did not require passwords.
The internet company argued that sensitive information was collected inadvertently and had never been processed.
It blamed the intrusion on an individual engineer who allegedly rigged a data-collection program into equipment that was supposed to only detect basic information about local Wi-Fi networks.
But the US Federal Communications Commission conducted an investigation and found evidence that some of Google's managers knew about the engineer's data collection program.
News of the surveillance triggered outrage among privacy watchdogs and government investigations in more than a dozen countries.
In France regulators found that Google had grabbed an email exchange between a married man and woman discussing a possible affair and other information about sexual preferences.
In addition to paying the fine, Google has also agreed to destroy the personal data that it collected from the Wi-FI networks, unless a lawsuit or other legal action requires the information to be preserved.
A series of related class-action lawsuits are still being appealed in San Francisco federal court.
The $7 million fine that Google is paying the states and District of Columbia is the biggest penalty imposed on Google in the United States so far.
rg/lw (dpa, AP)