Turns out, those camera-mounted compact cars Google dispatches to prowl America's streets haven't just been collecting the panoramic Street View images that help make its maps feature so incredibly useful. Nope. As the search giant admitted yesterday, those cars have been gathering email addresses, search histories and other personal information from unprotected wireless networks.
This revelation was trumpeted Tuesday by Attorney General Greg Abbott, who also announced that Google has agreed to settle this fairly blatant violation of privacy for $7 million. That sum is somewhat less impressive when one considers it will be divided between Texas and the 37 other states (D.C. included) that were investigating the practice -- or if you consider had $50 billion in revenues in 2012.
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More significant is Google's pledge to destroy the data it's collected, stop using Street View vehicles to farm personal data without consent, and develop a public service alerting people to the wisdom of encrypting their wireless networks.
Google, according to Abbott's press release, at first denied that its vehicles were collecting anything but images before admitting that they were, in fact, equipped with data collection devices that scanned and stored payload data from wireless networks. That such data was collected was a mistake.
"We work hard to get privacy right at Google," a Google spokesman told the Wall Street Journal. "But in this case we didn't, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue. "The project leaders never wanted this data, and didn't use it or even look at it."
The company certainly couldn't have looked at America, glanced at the millions of unprotected wireless networks and made a conscious decision to aggregate that data to gain a competitive edge. That would be sneaky, evil even, and we all know that Google can't do anything evil.