State attorneys general from across the nation are investigating Google and its Street View mapping service after an admission from the search engine giant that it collected consumers' personal information over unsecured Wi-Fi networks in the U.S. and more than 30 countries while taking map photos.
Google has stopped collecting the Wi-Fi data and has been turning over the information to authorities in the affected countries during the last two weeks. Investigations into the data grab are ongoing in Germany, France, Ireland and Australia.
Google Street View allows users to see actual photos of map places. The company has been using vehicles to gather photos and data. Besides grabbing photos, it also collected "payload data" -- including emails and internet activity -- from unsecured networks.
The attorneys general from 30 states including Virginia, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Michigan and Connecticut want to know why Google collected that personal information and what it gathered.
"These incidents serve as a reminder of the vulnerabilities of unsecured computer networks and the potential for breaches of privacy and even for criminal conduct," Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says in a statement, adding that Google is working with the state. He issued a warning this week to consumers urging them to safeguard their personal information through the use of password protection and anti-virus software.
In an emailed statement to Consumer Ally, Google said that "it was a mistake for us to include code in our software that collected payload, but we believe we did nothing illegal. We're working with the relevant authorities to answer their questions and concerns."
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the response to his office from Google acknowledges that it collected information such as e-mails, passwords and web browsing. Google says it picked up technical information from personal and business Wi-Fi networks to improve its "location-based services," but considers data to be public domain.
"Google's acknowledgment that it vacuumed up data from unencrypted wireless computer networks in Connecticut is disturbing and demands additional inquiry," Blumenthal said in a written statement. "Google grabbed information -- which could include emails, passwords and web-browsing -- that consumers rightly expect to be private. Google needs to better explain how this practice happened, exactly when, where and why."
The Google Street View mapping has stopped everywhere but one place -- San Francisco -- and collected data has already been deleted in Ireland, Austria and Denmark.
Consumer Ally writer Alysse Dalessandro contributed to this story.
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