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Internet search giant Google has agreed to a settlement, including a $7 million payout, with a group of states in a case involving privacy complaints. The complaints stem from Google’s street view cars, which travel the roads taking 360-degree pictures as well as the location of wireless hotspots and cell phone towers. They apparently also picked up private data from unencrypted wireless networks as they traveled.
In May of 2010 Google admitted in a blog post that it had collected private data, including information like passwords and emails. There, Google stated that collecting the information was a mistake and that Google never wanted or used the information. “The engineering team at Google works hard to earn your trust — and we are acutely aware that we failed badly, here,” the blog post stated. “We are profoundly sorry for this error and are determined to learn all the lessons we can from our mistake.”
For the current settlement, in addition to the $7 million payment, Google is also required to delete the private information, institute an employee education program about privacy, and sponsor a national public service campaign focused on protecting private information. Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen stated, “The importance of this agreement goes beyond financial terms. Consumers have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
For some, though, the amount of the settlement was not enough. Steve Pociask, the president of the American Consumer Institute, said, “With revenue of $100 million a day, the fine is just a drop in the bucket and not enough to deter bad behavior.” “Consumers are growing tired of seeing Google apologize time and time again, pay a small fine and make vague promises in settlements with one agency or another, only later to engage in the same behavior.” It is perhaps worth noting that Google recently announced that its executive chairman Eric Schmidt will be receiving a bonus of $6 million for his performance last year.
In 2010 both the FTC and the FCC began investigating Google. However, neither investigation led to significant further action. The FCC ultimately found that Google did not violate the law, although they did levy a $25,000 fine on Google for obstructing the investigation. Google still faces private lawsuits related to the Street View data collection.
Do you think the settlement is reasonable? Do you think Google really collected the information by mistake?
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