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Google snoopers slapped for WiFi tapping

WASHINGTON – Attorneys general representing 38 states and the District of Columbia have reached a $7 million settlement with Google Inc. over consumer protection and privacy claims.

The penalty, which amounts to petty cash for the $46 billion per year company, was announced by Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen.

It was over the unauthorized collection of data from unsecured wireless networks though Google’s Street View vehicles, which could listen in on unlocked home WiFi systems as drivers cruised through neighborhoods.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center had spent years building a case against the search engine giant over its unauthorized data collecting from WiFi networks of private Internet users.

In 2010, EPIC appealed to the Federal Communication Commission to investigate the Google Street View program after reports came out that Google had intercepted the private communications of millions of users of WiFi networks in the U.S.

EPIC subsequently pursued FOIA requests regarding FCC and Department of Justice investigations into Google’s privacy violations.

“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,” Jepsen said.

Read all the details about snooping in America today, in “One Nation Under Surveillance.”

Connecticut led the eight-state executive committee that worked for two years to investigate the matter and negotiate the assurance of voluntary compliance with Google. In addition to the executive committee, attorneys general for 38 states and D.C. signed the agreement with Google to resolve the privacy dispute.

The $7 million settlement levied against the Internet giant was divided among the states involved. Connecticut’s share of the settlement was $520,823 for violating the state’s citizens’ privacy.

Connecticut Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein said, “As a dominant force shaping and changing how consumers use the internet, Google must also show leadership in minimizing security and privacy risks to consumers who take advantage of the internet. In complying with this settlement, Google has the opportunity to set the bar for the industry in better educating the public about avoiding and reducing cyber-risks.”