After a week of rumors, this doesn’t come as a huge surprise anymore: Google today settled the privacy case brought against it by 37 states and the District of Columbia. In total, Google will pay $7 million dollars, a number that isn’t going to cause a lot of sleepless nights at company headquarters. Every state will get a share of the $7 million, so even the eight lead states that investigated this matter for the last two years will only get $520,823. The other states will get roughly $147,000.
In 2010, Google was accused of collecting some private Wi-Fi payload data while its Street View vehicles were on the road and taking images in the U.S. and Europe. Google first denied that this ever happened, but the company later confirmed that this was indeed the case, though it also argued that this was “a mistake.” In 2006, Google argued, one of its engineers developed some code to collect this data for an experimental project and this code somehow found its way into the Street View code, as well.
“While the $7 million is significant, the importance of this agreement goes beyond financial terms. Consumers have a reasonable expectation of privacy. 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,” Connecticut’s Attorney General George Jepsen said in a statement today.
The terms of the settlement also state that Google will “engage in a comprehensive employee education program about the privacy or confidentiality of user data.” The company also has to run a nationwide campaign to teach consumers about how to secure their wireless networks. This campaign, the settlement states, will “include a YouTube video instructing users ‘how-to’ encrypt their wireless networks,” as well as “daily online ads for two years promoting the video; a Google Public Policy Blog post explaining the value of encrypting wireless networks and linking to the video; half-page advertisements in national and state newspapers; and production of an educational pamphlet about online safety and privacy which incorporates information about WiFi security.”
Unsurprisingly, the settlement also states that Google has to destroy all the private data its Street View cars collected between 2008 and March 2010.