Iowa is part of a multi-state settlement with on-line giant Google over information pulled from personal computers. Geoff Greenwood of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office says Google captured the data as its employees took pictures for the service that links photos of homes to maps.
“As these Street View vehicles were going down the street, not only were they taking pictures of the area, but they were also collecting data from people’s wireless hotspots –the unencrypted hotspots,” Greenwood explains. “And they may have also been getting things like emails, passwords and web addresses that you may’ve been visiting. And so this settlement addresses those privacy concerns that we raised as a result of this case.”
Thirty-seven other states and the District of Columbia agreed to the $7-million settlement with Google over the collection of the information. “We’re not alleging that Google misused the information that it collected. But Google shouldn’t have been collecting that information to begin with. Consumers had not idea that these vehicles were going down the street trying to tap into their wireless networks and collecting that information as part of Street View — it just shouldn’t have happened to begin with,” Greenwood says.
The information was collected by Google between 2008 and March of 2010. “As part of this agreement, the company has agreed to destroy this data,” Greenwood says. “Now of course, Street View is still there, they are still able to use the pictures they collected on the streets. But they cannot use the data they collected from people’s wireless modem.”
Iowa’s portion of the settlement is just over $115,000. Greenwood says the money will go into the state’s consumer and litigation fund as it would be impossible to figure out which Iowans had information taken.
“We did not receive any complaints because people didn’t know that this was occurring. This something that became an issue in Germany initially, and once American authorities became aware of it, the FTC launched an inquiry and so did the state Attorney’s General,” Greenwood says. “The FTC previously settled their case, and now we’re settling ours.”
Greenwood says this case points out the importance of making sure your wireless modem is password encrypted so the information you have cannot be accessed by someone outside your home without your permission. The agreement requires Google to run an employee training program about privacy and confidentiality of user data and continue the program for at least ten years.
The company must also conduct a public service advertising campaign to help educate consumers about steps they may take to better secure their personal information while using wireless networks.