37 states join probe into Google Wi-Fi data collection

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A multistate investigation is raising more questions about how Google Inc. may have improperly gathered people’s private information through their unsecured wireless networks while collecting data for its Street View feature.

Connecticut Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal, who has been leading the month-old investigation, sent a third letter to Google on Wednesday asking, among other things, whether it had tested the feature’s software before putting it to use. Doing so, he said, should have uncovered any glitches responsible for the unwarranted collection of e-mails, passwords and other personal data of those who failed to protect their networks with passwords.


‘Google’s responses continue to generate more questions than they answer,’ he said in a statement. ‘Now the question is how it may have used -- and secured -- all this private information.’

Blumenthal, who is running for Sen. Christopher J. Dodd’s seat, also said that attorneys general from 37 states and the District of Columbia have officially joined the probe, including those from Texas, Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Massachusetts. Eight states would not be identified because their laws bar them from disclosing investigations, he said.

The office of California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown has not yet responded to a question about whether the state is a participant.

‘As we’ve said before, it was a mistake for us to include code in our software that collected payload data, but we believe we did nothing illegal,’ a spokesperson for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google said in a statement. ‘We’re continuing to work with the relevant authorities to answer their questions and concerns.’

The investigation, which follows similar probes in Germany and Australia, is also considering whether federal and state laws need to be changed or updated as a preventative measure.

The Street View function was launched in 2007 and since expanded to most major cities in the U.S, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. It uses vehicles to photograph street layouts in every direction to give Web users a 360-degree view of streets and roadways.

But the vehicles were also equipped to detect Wi-Fi access points, which Google hadn’t disclosed until recently, in order to help computers figure out where they are without having to use a GPS system.

At the same time, Google said it mistakenly picked up 600 gigabytes of data from unsecured networks over the last three years.

-- Kristena Hansen

[Update 2:55 p.m.] Christine Gasparac, spokeswoman for Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, said although the office has been in direct contact with Google on the issue, it has not joined the multi-state probe.