NEW YORK – Google must pay a $7 million fine after it acknowledged it had intercepted emails, passwords and other personal information from computer users via its Street View mapping program.
The case covers 38 states in the United States and the District of Columbia, where households and businesses unknowingly had some of the personal data and communications accessed by Google, the New York Times reported.
The search engine giant was found to have collected emails, passwords and web histories from home broadband networks between 2008 and 2010, the London Independent reported.
Google acknowledged Wednesday the privacy breach had occurred but blamed a single engineer for including software code which accidentally collected the information from unsecured WiFi networks.
“We work hard to get privacy right at Google,” the firm said in a statement. “But in this case we didn’t, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address this issue.
“The project leaders never wanted this data, and didn’t use it or even look at it.”
Consumer Watchdog described the fine and conditions imposed as inadequate for the multi-billion-dollar company, AFP reported.
"The $7 million penalty is pocket change for Google," said Consumer Watchdog privacy project director John Simpson.
"Asking Google to educate consumers about privacy is like asking the fox to teach the chickens how to ensure the security of their coop."
The New York Times said that in agreeing to settle the case Wednesday, Google for the first time is required to police its own employees on privacy issues and to explicitly tell the public how to fend off privacy violations.
It said it had introduced a training program for all employees.