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Google to settle state 'Wi-Spy' spat out of court

Street View data slurp saga rolls on

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Google and the state of Connecticut have agreed to settle their despute over the web giant's Street View Wi-Fi payload slurp without going to court.

In December, then Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal hit Google with a Civil Investigative Demand – the equivalent of a subpoena – insisting that the company turn over the Wi-Fi payload its Street View cars collected from insecure Wi-Fi networks in the state. And Google refused to do so. Today, new Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen and Consumer Protection Commissioner Jerry Farrell announced that the state had reached an agreement with Google to settle the matter out of court.

Connecticut also representing a coalition of fifty states in the matter. “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 in a canned statement.

In May, with a blog post, Google said its Street View cars had been collecting payload data from Wi-Fi networks across the globe, contradicting previous assurances by the company. The company said that the data was collected by "mistake" and that the data has not been used in any Google products, and it temporarily grounded its Street View fleet.

After investigations in other countries, Google admitted that it collected URLs and email messages. And it has done the same as part of its agreement with the state of Connecticut. "Google stipulates, for purposes of settlement discussions, that the payload data collected contained URLs of requested Web pages, partial or complete e-mail communications or other information, including confidential and private information the network user was transmitting over the unsecured network while Google’s Street View car was within range," reads a release from the state. "Google also will not contest during settlement negotiations that such private information was collected every day that the Street View cars operated."

The consumer watchdog known as Consumer Watchdog decried today's agreement between Google and the state. "The details of the biggest privacy breach in history shouldn’t be settled in secret,” said John M. 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.” ®

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