Report: Google To Settle Street-View Spying Probe

by , Mar 8, 2013, 6:12 PM
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Google will pay $7 million to settle an investigation stemming from the company's Wi-Spy scandal, All Things D reported this afternoon.

The deal, which will end a probe by 30 state attorneys general, is slated to be announced next week, according to the report. Google declined to answer MediaPost's questions about the All Things D article, which was based on information provided by an unnamed person familiar with the matter.

The Wi-Spy debacle first came to light  in 2010, when reports surfaced that Google's Street View cars had collected payload data -- including URLs of sites visited, email messages and passwords -- from WiFi networks that weren't password-protected.

The company apologized and promised to delete the data. But it still faced investigations in the U.S. and abroad, as well as a potential class-action lawsuit.

For the most part, the U.S. investigations fizzled out -- partly because Google wasn't particularly helpful. The Federal Communications Commission ultimately fined Google $25,000 for failing to cooperate with the probe, but never said that the company broke any laws.

But even if Google and its employees had provided information more freely to the government, it's still not certain that the company broke any laws. That's because the federal wiretap law, which dates to 1986, appears to allow companies to intercept publicly accessible communications.

Google argues in a pending class-action lawsuit that unprotected WiFi networks are publicly accessible. U.S. District Court Judge James Ware -- who was presiding over the class-action -- disagreed with Google on that point. He ruled that the transmissions weren't publicly accessible because they couldn't be read without "sophisticated technology." But Ware also granted Google's request to send that question to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court is still considering the question.

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