back to article Google's Wi-Fi sniffing to result in $7 million fine

Google is reportedly close to settling with the 30 US states that were pursuing it over the infamous StreetView Wifi data slurp. In between practicing taking the decision seriously in public, there are probably fits of giggles breaking out in Google's boardroom, because according to Reuters, the proposed settlement is $US7 …


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  1. JassMan

    The real question is...

    how much the politicians involved "earned" for their their services to the choclate factory.

    The big Gs motto should not be "do no evil" but "make sure you aren't seen to pay too much when you are caught".

    On the other hand, I am sure they are no more evil than another other global corporation who find it cheaper to buy the law makers than to have a conscience.

  2. LarsG


    Only $7,000,000?

    That's just like a gentle tap on the back of a hand. Small pocket change, the legal system must be seen to be doing something, but really they are being let off.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Only

      Well, it's probably that again for, umm, "sponsoring" the people involved, but it's still a steal. That leaves them with plenty of money to subvert EU and Swiss privacy laws (which is what they are trying right now).

  3. banjomike

    three years before the sniffing was "discovered"

    Cobblers. Nearly as big a load of cobblers as a $7 million fine.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No taxes paid, minuscule fine. It's like the DOJ and Microsoft again.

    US governments really struggle to punish US companies, they see it as being bad for business. Although I imagine Google lobbied like crazy as usual to get this lenient fine.

  5. Graham Marsden

    You have to wonder...

    ... how much the lobbying they undoubtedly engaged in cost in comparison to the fine...

  6. csumpi
    Paris Hilton


    They probably blew a lot more money on getting the right people in office.

  7. Curly4

    If these wifi connections were security enabled how could they snoop on them as they drive by? Now if these connections were NOT security enabled then the users were fools and needed to be taught a lesson. That would be the same as leaving a $100 greenback on your front door and expect it to be there when you come back in a day or two.

    Now if Google DID hack into the system and then stole information then the fine was not enough.

    1. JassMan


      Amazing as it may seem, there are still places in the world where your neighbours will put the $100 greenback back through your letterbox to stop it going soggy in the rain. The question for the philosophers and psychiatrists is what makes city dwellers think they have a right to steal things which aren't locked down?

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      It's not stealing in the first place

      If the wi-fi security isn't enabled, it's like Google driving by and hearing the stereo blasting, and noting they listen to Nickleback.

      If you're embarrassed that people might know you listen to Nickleback, either turn it down or close the windows. Your personal choice, not Google's.

      There should be no fine at all.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's not stealing in the first place

        So what if they drove by your house and recorded your encrypted wireless traffic? I guess you'd be fine with that, because you took steps to encrypt it? What if they decided to put some of their massive computing power to use and randomly chose some people's wireless traffic to crack, and you got chosen? Still fine with it?

        I view this as being rather like if your daughter left her blinds up in her bedroom and Streetview went by with a special camera on it with a zoom lens aimed at the second story of houses it is passing by just to see what it could find. It's "her fault" that she might be caught undressing by the zoom camera, but I don't think that would make you or her feel about better about it.

        The paltry fine Google was given is basically license for them and any other large company for whom a $7 million fine amounts to almost nothing to violate people's privacy in any way they wish. There's no sense of scale in corporate fines in the US, if a company 1/1000th of Google's size did the same thing they are much more likely to fine them $7 million as well than to fine them $7,000. If they made it commensurate with the size of the company doing it, they (or Microsoft, or Apple, or Goldman Sachs, or whatever company you happen to feel is "evil" where you obviously feel Google isn't) will not worry about getting caught if a similar idea occurs to them in the future.

        1. Donn Bly

          Re: It's not stealing in the first place

          No, it isn't like them having a zoom lens pointed to the second floor, it is like your daughter running naked down the street and the neighbor kids caught it on their cell phones - and they didn't even show it to their friends or upload it to facebook, but just deleted it instead.

          The real problem here is that no CRIME has been committed, and most police cars these days are equipped with equipment just as capable - heck, most SMARTPHONES are just as capable of sniffing and recording the traffic. There are plenty of reasons to hate google - this isn't one of them.

          1. Ole Juul

            Re: It's not stealing in the first place

            most police cars these days are equipped with equipment just as capable

            Are you suggesting that if it's OK for the police, then it's OK for Google? I don't like that idea very much. In fact I'm not even happy with how far the police are going these days.

    3. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Oh yawn, here we go again. Print this out on a little card and keep it with you.

      1 - accessing WiFi without permission is in many countries illegal, IRRESPECTIVE of the WiFi being encrypted or not. It's the equivalent of walking into a house because the door was left unlocked, that is stupid, but it still doesn't legalise you gaining access to the network (even if some products do this now automatically). Here is an example of a conviction in the US.

      But let's assume, for a minute, that it was OK to access an open WiFi without permission. There is another problem: data privacy.

      2 - Google is a business, and a business has to comply with laws. The moment there is a mere POTENTIAL of acquiring personal information, permission has to be gained from the individual involved. Given that Google could potentially acquire information deemed "sensitive" under EU law, it would have to gain EXPLICIT permission. Even for US companies, "you let me drive past your house" is not considered enough as a permission statement.

      In the US they're a bit more relaxed about it (hence the pityful fines), but the EU has actually been too friendly here, and the lobbying proves that Google jolly well knows it got away with breaking the law once, and is worried about not being to pull that off a second time.

  8. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. hplasm

      Re: Rewardomg Bad Behaviour

      You stuff a mouse up it's trunk.

      Then run.

  9. cd


    "...based on its 2012 revenue of $US50 billion, it's about 1 hour, 13.5 minutes of the Chocolate Factory's income."

    So make the fine in hours of enforced downtime or revenue from that time. 24 hours might have stung a bit.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It should be 7% of taxable earnings

    Mind you, given their tax mitigation strategy, that would only be about 73c.

  11. ratfox

    $7 millions? Wow

    The scariest part is, if they could only come up with that, it probably means they could not even find which law Google had broken, and Google just settled with them to stop the nagging.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's so low because...

    google flogged the idea that this is all a PSA to the politicians... 'Secure you're wireless, bitches'

    Seriously though I'm of the mind that it's in a grey area ethically, but what they did was sniff unsecured data in the clear. Your ISP is probably guilty of more egregious data mining. Just think of all the unencrypted email that flies around the net and how many people are ignorant (or don't care) that it's contents could be swiped numerous times.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gosh, you lot, it's double the fine they gave unemployed mother of three for downloading* 6 songs, so, you know, there!

    Uploading, sharing, whatever.

  14. SPiT

    Difficult to make a good case against Google

    The real issue is that the only reason that sniffing this traffic might be unlawful is if we are claiming that the users of that Wifi had a reasonable expectation of privacy. In a way its the same issue with StreetView. The complaints about street view photography have been principally around the fact that the raised height of the camera allowed it to see things that people would reasonable expect to not be seen from the street - ie over a 6' fence in a street where no double decker buses go past.

    So the real question is do the posters who think there should be a significant fine believe that users of unencrypted Wifi have a reasonable expectation of privacy? Personally I don't know if a court would consider that reasonable or not. I wouldn't expect my encrypted traffic to be private.

    And, on another note, cracking the encryption on encrypted traffic would be quite another and clear cut offense in the USA which has a law about "bypassing encryption schemes" and could in all likelihood be treated as a criminal matter where you can't just pay a fine.

  15. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    The real issue is that the only reason that sniffing this traffic might be unlawful is if we are claiming that the users of that Wifi had a reasonable expectation of privacy

    Actually, no. It tends to be classified as either unauthorised intercept or gaining unauthorised access to computer resources, or even both. Most governments have created laws against that, if for no other reason than to protect themselves. Using your neighbour's WiFi without their permission falls in many countries actually under criminal law.

    Personally I find that in quite a few situations a tad OTT, but I understand and appreciate the reasons for it. And so does Google - there is no conceivable way to make it credible that Google did this by accident. None whatsoever.

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