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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Daily Report: Google Concedes That Drive-By Prying Violated Privacy

Google acknowledged on Tuesday that it had violated people’s privacy during its Street View mapping project when it casually scooped up passwords, e-mails and other personal information from unsuspecting computer users, David Streitfeld reports in The New York Times.

In agreeing to settle a case brought by 38 states involving the project, the search company for the first time is required to aggressively police its own employees on privacy issues and to explicitly instruct the public about how to fend off privacy violations like this one.

While the settlement also included a tiny â€" for Google â€" fine of $7 million, privacy advocates and Google critics characterized the overall agreement as a breakthrough for a company they say has become a serial violator of privacy, with multiple enforcement actions in recent years and a slew of worldwide investigations into the way the mappingproject also collected the personal data of private computer users.

“Google puts innovation ahead of everything and resists asking permission,” said Scott Cleland, a consultant and consumer watchdog whose blog maintains a close watch on privacy issues involving Google. “But the states are throwing down a marker that they are watching and there is a line the company shouldn’t cross.”

The agreement paves the way for a major privacy battle over Google Glass, the much-hyped wearable computer in the form of glasses, Mr. Cleland said. “If you use Google Glass to record a couple whispering to each other in Starbucks, have you violated their privacy” he asked. “Well, 38 states just said they have a problem with the unauthorized collection of people’s data.”

George Jepsen, the Connecticut attorney general who led the states’ investigation, said he was hopeful the settlement would pr! oduce a new Google. “This is the industry giant,” he said. “It is committing to change its corporate culture to encourage sensitivity to issues of personal data privacy.”