Google admitted its Street View cars collected private data from unsecured wireless network as part of an agreement with Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen to avoid having to go to court over the issue.
The search giant acknowledged the cars downloaded payload data from unsecured WiFi networks between 2008 and September 2009 in an incident that has been dubbed “Wi-Spy.” The Federal Trade Commission ended its probe of the incident in October after Google promised to improve its privacy practices.
Jepsen’s predecessor, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), issued a Civil Investigative Demand that required Google to turn over the data, a request Google refused in December. Friday’s agreement means Google won’t have to hand over the data and will be able to avoid a lengthy court battle.
“This is a good result for the people of Connecticut. The stipulation means we can proceed to negotiate a settlement of the critical privacy issues implicated here without the need for a protracted and costly fight in the courts, although we are ready to do so if we are unable to come to a satisfactory agreement through negotiation,” Jepsen said.
As part of the agreement, Google stipulated the cars had downloaded confidential and private information from users including e-mails, passwords and URLs. They will also not contest that the cars collected the data every day they operated.
Frequent Google critic Consumer Watchdog blasted the announcement and repeated its call for outgoing Google CEO Eric Schmidt to explain the incident to lawmakers.
“The details of the biggest privacy breach in history shouldn’t be settled in secret,” said John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Inside Google Project. “This makes it clear why Google CEO Eric Schmidt needs to testify under oath before Congress about Wi-Spy.”
Google is still facing demands from several nations around the globe for further details of the incident.