The Five Hour Fifteen Minute Fine

Google pays fine for street view cars collecting data
I keep pretty current with all things search, yet even I was a little taken aback by the fine on Google just announced today. In this case, the attorneys general of 38 states settled with Google by fining Big G seven million dollars. Any Google watcher will initially be surprised that Google settled at all. Google is famously combative, they took on and took down the FTC before Christmas, and if you come after them you had better have a great case and deep pockets. In this case the states AG had exactly that. What Google is being fined for is a by-product of their Street View project. Back in 2008-2010 when they send goofy looking cars to photograph everyone’s house from a pedestrian point of view the cars also collected other data like your emails, financial records, browser behavior, and for all I know your inside leg measurement, from unencrypted WiFi connections.

Putting aside the question “who in their right mind leaves an unencrypted WiFi connection out there (remember it was a few years back)… the bigger question in my mind would be, why on Earth would you equip a fleet of cars with the infrastructure needed to harvest data which you have always said you weren’t trying to capture? A street photo is not financial data; browser behavior is not a street photo. Google used the (oops) defense. It claimed it collected WiFi data because of “rogue code” mistakenly included in the software by a lone engineer. Yeah right. I think a better, more honest and quite reasonable, answer would have been “Back then we thought it might be cool to map as much data as we could since we were in the neighborhood anyway we took what we could find.  The team working on it was over zealous, we collected more than we intended, we never wanted or used the data, we have destroyed it and we will work hard to preserve private data doing forwards.”

I just don’t buy the “rogue coder” defense… (BTW The Rogue Coder Defense would be a great title for a Big Bang Theory episode)… with “rogue” teams fitting “rogue” WiFi data collector systems into thousands of “rogue” vehicles which were then scouring the country uploading non existent data to “rogue” servers. Why is it I can’t beat a speeding ticket but Google can sell that ration of nonsense to 38 states AG? The topper for all this silliness is the fine. Google does roughly 32 Million a day. The laughably small $7 Million dollar fine will take roughly 5 and a quarter hours to earn out… oh well… I wasn’t using my forth amendment rights anyway.

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