Google Gets Off Easy With $7M Fine In Wi-Fi Privacy Case

Google has been fined $7 million dollars in a case over the company’s WiFi snooping, which occurred between 2008-2010 as Google Street View cars crisscrossed the country mapping everything in sight. Google Street View is a gloriously powerful tool, but the fleet of Street View mapping cars were collecting data such as passwords from the WiFi networks they cruised past in addition to snapping photos.

Several reports indicate that a lone rogue engineer was responsible for the data collection, although others at the company eventually learned of the practice and didn’t do anything about it. Even so, Google maintains that it didn’t break any laws and that the company thought is was only collecting non-personal, location-based data. It says that once employees learned what they were actually collecting, they segregated the data, for whatever that’s worth.

Evil Page
Image credit: Gizmodo

The fine is reportedly the highest ever levied for Internet privacy violations in U.S. history. However, we can think of at least two things terribly wrong with this fine.

First, seven million dollars is an infinitesimal sum by Google standards. Reuters notes that the company raked in $50.2 billion last year. (CEO Larry Page probably has that $7 million in his couch cushions.) Second, although the fine is the highest of its kind, this particular offense lasted two years and spanned most of the country--indeed, 38 states where the violations occurred are getting a cut of the money--which makes the offense all the more egregious.

Street View car
Violators, mount up

Even supposing that Google absolutely did this accidentally, they still did it. Microsoft can tell you all about how accidental violations go after the EU handed the company its teeth with a $732 million fine for antitrust violations. That’s more than 100 times the amount of Google’s fine.

The fact is, Google got off with hardly a scratch. It remains to be seen if the EU is as kind as the U.S. was, as Google still has to face up to the same violations over there.