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

Connecticut’s Attorney General led a conference call with more than 30 states to discuss Google’s recent Wi-Fi “data grab” blunder. This could get ugly.

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).


About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law.