AG questions Google on private information
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has asked Internet search giant Google Inc. whether it collected personal information from citizens without their permission.
Coakley said today that she and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sent a letter requesting Google provide details on the information collected as part of the company's "Street View" mapping program.
"We are concerned with any instances in which the personal information of Massachusetts consumers may have been compromised," Coakley said in a statement.
Coakley's office said that she and the attorneys general of 29 other states participated last week in a conference call to consider whether to take joint action against Google.
The company's Street View program uses camera-equipped cars to develop photographic maps of cities around the world. The maps can be viewed free of charge on the Google Maps website, or on advanced cellphones with Google Maps software.
But the concern stems from an effort to add radio mapping technology to Google Maps. The company's vans carry radio receivers that connect with nearby Wi-Fi wireless Internet routers. Each router has a unique identification code. By matching the code with the location of the router, Google can create a Wi-Fi map of a city. A cellphone owner can use this Wi-Fi map to pinpoint his own location, and find other nearby places of interest.
However, Google admitted last month that it had collected some of the data being transmitted over the Wi-Fi hotspots that it mapped. The admission has spawned investigations around the world, with officials in Europe, Asia, and the US demanding to know what kind of data Google captured. The company said that it had accumulated about 600 gigabytes of data. Today, researchers in France who'd been given access to the data said that Google had obtained copies of resident's Internet passwords and e-mail messages.