Google settles lawsuit over Street View's collection of personal information

AUSTIN - Texas is among 38 states and the District of Columbia to resolve a lengthy investigation into Google Inc.'s collection of personal information from unsecured wireless routers at private residences and businesses.

The personal information collected included e-mail and search histories.

"For two years, Google violated Texans' privacy rights and secretly collected personal information from their wireless routers. Today's agreement requires Google to destroy any personal data that was improperly collected and imposes important new privacy protections that govern the Street View program going forward," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

According to Abbott, Google initially denied that its Street View vehicles were retrieving private information.  Then the California-based conglomerate subsequently acknowledged that it had "mistakenly" engaged in this practice.

The Street View project was to enhance Google Maps.  Street View sent out a fleet of vehicles to photograph residences, businesses and neighborhoods all over the nation.  According to the lawsuit, residents and business owners whose properties were photographed did not know Street View vehicles were outfitted with specialized data collection devices that also scanned and stored payload data from wireless networks that were not password protected.

The State of Texas' investigation revealed Google collected private information that was transmitted over unencrypted WiFi networks for two years. Although information transmitted on these wireless networks was collected from 2010 to 2012, Google represented that it had not intended to collect and store network users' private payload data.

Under the agreement, Google must pay $7 million.

The company must also destroy the "payload data" it collected, notify network users and obtain their consent before using its Street View vehicles to collect any additional "payload data", implement an employee training program that highlights network users' privacy and develop public service campaign to educate network users about how to better secure their personal information while they are using wireless networks.

Abbott urged Texans to protect their privacy by securing their home computer systems and activating encryption features to make sure that transmitted information is scrambled.

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