Google will be forced to pay $7 million dollars in a court settlement for questionable data collection practices associated with Street View. Problems surfaced in 2010 when the official Google blog admitted to including coding in its software that collected and stored payload data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. Google paid a security firm to address concerns raised by the government of Ireland, but the findings of that report confirmed what many already knew. Google had unintentionally been spying on millions of people.
The $7 million dollars will be paid out to the 38 states that filed suit against Goggle. Conversely, Google makes about $6 million dollars an hour. This hardly qualifies as a slap on the wrist. This case, however, is less about how much money Google will be forced to pay and more about ongoing concerns about privacy rights.
The data that Google Street View collected was unauthorized, which is the issue being addressed in this case. Street View was utilizing Open Source Software (OSS), and Google execs maintain that they had no prior knowledge the code that collected the payload data was present. As the Street View car passed by homes and businesses, data was collected from people who were using unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. That data may have been included in URLs. It was not, however, used in any other way according to Google.
The terms of the settlement will require Google to bolster its user privacy rights policies. Google will have to make a YouTube video that tells users how to encrypt their wireless networks. Google will also have to run educational ads in the largest paper in each of the 38 states that filed suit against it.
This settlement is something authorities and Google have been working on for three years. While some, like NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, believe the settlement addresses privacy issues, others aren’t so sure. Privacy advocacy group Consumer Watchdog said that "asking Google to educate customers about privacy is like asking the fox to teach the chickens how to ensure the security of their coop."
Privacy issues aren’t going away any time soon for Google. Google Glass has raised an entirely different set of concerns among consumers. Visual fingerprinting, possible unauthorized recording of individuals conversations, and/or the collection of data, have many wondering about what the future of privacy will be.
Will this settlement impact the way Google implements Google Glass? Connecticut AG George Jepsen believes it will, saying:
"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."
Singling out Google, however, seems silly. How we define privacy changes with each new technological advancement. Is that an erosion of privacy, or an evolution of it? If we purchase an item, if we opt-in to a service, why do we assume that we are guaranteed a right to privacy at all?