According to AllThingsD, Google is about to settle the so-called “WiSpy” investigation with 30 US state Attorneys Generals. Google will admit no wrongdoing and pay $7 million according to the report. The article says the settlement will be announced next week.
In early 2012, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) concluded its own WiSpy investigation with no finding of liability against Google, but fined the company $25,000 for not cooperating with its investigation — a claim that Google aggressively disputed.
The WiSpy scandal was global in scope. If you’ve forgotten, it involved the capture of personal email and other private information as part of Google’s Street View WiFi data collection and hotspot mapping process.
The first revelation that Google had collected sensitive “payload” information came in May 2010. Google cofounder Sergey Brin admitted the problem at Google’s I/O developer conference and characterized it as a “mistake.”
However, the FCC investigation and subsequent report on the matter revealed that the data capture was intentional and instigated by an engineer at Google who believed the data might be useful to Google later. Because the engineer invoked his 5th Amendment against self-incrimination, the FCC decided not to pursue a criminal case against Google.
Some have described the Google employee, referred to as “Engineer Doe” in the FCC report and subsequently revealed as Marius Milner, as a “rogue engineer.” However, he is portrayed in the report as someone doing a job he was asked to do.
The report reflected either duplicity or a condition of lax internal supervision at Google, as well as general disinterest in the privacy implications of the consumer payload data — at least among first-line supervisory personnel. Google upper management have repeatedly denied knowledge of the details of the payload data capture or that it was authorized.
Google, last year, created an internal “Red Team” to “help ensure that our products are designed to the highest standards and are operated in a manner that protects the privacy of our users.” This was, at least in part, a response to the WiSpy scandal in the US and abroad.
We’ll have to see what the provisions of the settlement are when announced. Although a large-sounding number, the $7 million is relatively insignificant figure for Google, whose Q4 revenues were in excess of $14 billion.
With the end of this investigation, the majority of WiSpy cases have now been closed or settled.