Group wants details from Google

Jessica M. Karmasek Jan. 31, 2011, 11:57am


SANTA MONICA, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - A consumer advocacy organization says the specifics of Google's Street View project must be made public.

Congressional hearings, Consumer Watchdog says, are necessary if the American public is to understand fully what happened in the so-called Wi-Spy scandal.

On Friday, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen and Consumer Protection Commissioner Jerry Farrell said they reached an agreement with Google, Inc., over the company's objection to a Civil Investigative Demand requiring it to produce data it collected from unsecured wireless networks in the state.

In December, former state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal -- now a U.S. senator -- issued the demand.

According to the Attorney General's Office, Google collected information, called "payload data," being transmitted over unsecured business and personal wireless networks in Connecticut between 2008 and September 2009. The company used "Street View" cars equipped with cameras and an antenna to collect the payload data, Jepsen's office explained.

The agreement will allow Google and Connecticut -- and the 40-state coalition it is leading -- to begin negotiations to resolve the data collection issue without going to court to enforce the Civil Investigative Demand, equivalent to a subpoena, issued on behalf of the state, the Attorney General's Office said.

"This is a good result for the people of Connecticut," Jepsen said in a statement.

"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."

Still, Consumer Watchdog is pushing for a public investigation into the matter.

"The details of the biggest privacy breach in history shouldn't be settled in secret," John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Inside Google Project, said in a statement.

"This makes it clear why Google CEO Eric Schmidt needs to testify under oath before Congress about Wi-Spy."

The consumer advocacy group wants Schmidt to answer the following questions:

- Why did Google gather data from the Wi-Fi networks?

- What plans were there to use the data?

- Who authorized the project and supervised it?

- Who at Google has used, analyzed or otherwise accessed payload data and for what purpose?

- If the data was collected "by accident," why did Google seek a patent on the process that was used to gather the data?

- How can Google assure us this won't happen again?

- How many Americans' private information was collected by Google?

- What kind of information was collected? E-mails, passwords, financial information, medical data, searches, videos?

Consumer Watchdog this weekend even went as far as releasing a satirical video to underscore the need for such hearings.

According to Friday's agreement, Google admitted its Street View cars had collected private user information including URLs of requested Web pages, partial or complete e-mail communications or other information, but won't give the Attorney General's Office what it collected.

The stipulation will avoid going to court as settlement negotiations continue, Jepsen's office said.

In addition to the investigation by the state attorneys general, Google also faces a class action suit over Wi-Spy in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at

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