Connecticut Attorney General Leads 30-State Investigation Into Google "Data Grab"

Google Street View car

Connecticut's Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal, is leading a multi-state investigation into Google's admitted breach of wireless privacy. You can check out our coverage of the situation, but to quickly catch you all up: Google's Street View cars, while doing their normal mapping, also gathered data on local Wi-Fi networks. This has a legitimate purpose--Google says it's for location services, which could include, say, an overlay in Google Maps showing all the local cafes with free Wi-Fi.

But the Street View cars did their job entirely too well, gathering information on private Wi-Fi networks as well as public, even sniffing out some passwords and emails. Google claims this was completely unintentional, has cooperated fully with all authorities (and there have been lots of interested authorities, at home and abroad), and contritely apologized for the violation.

Now, reports Reuters, Blumenthal is leading the charge with several other states--he conducted a conference call with "over 30 states"--to investigate further Google's "deeply disturbing invasion of personal privacy," as he puts it. His investigation will seek to find out what, if any, laws were broken, and if current state and federal statutes may need updating in response.

Blumenthal says Google has cooperated fully, but "its response so far raises as many questions as it answers." Blumenthal (or, at least, Reuters) did not elaborate on what questions Google's response has raised. The Connecticut AG is seeking more information into how this mistake did actually happen, which is something we'd all like to know. Cracking personal Wi-Fi passwords isn't exactly automatic (though it is easier than many think), and it's very curious that such code made it into the Street View cars.

A Google spokesman responded:

It was a mistake for us to include code in our software that collected payload data, but we believe we did nothing illegal. We're working with the relevant authorities to answer their questions and concerns."

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in San Francisco (no link for that one--you'll have to do the legwork yourself).

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  • Tyler Gray

    Funny story, over the weekend we were looking at our address on Google Earth (in Manhattan). They do a good job of blurring out everyone on the street, but when you zoom in on my living room window, there's a shadowy figure standing there in a white button-down shirt. No one would probably be able to figure it out on their own, so it's probably legal and, well, maybe even technically ethical, but without a doubt, it's me.