Google was fined €145,000 ($189,000) by German officials on April 22 because it violated German citizens’ privacy rights while developing the Street View mapping service. Google illegally acquired personal information from public and private Wi-Fi networks, including emails, photographs and other unencrypted data, according to the New York Times. The data was collected by Google’s Street View automobiles, which have digitized about five million miles of roadways in 49 countries.
According to BBC News, Germany’s data chief claimed Google’s actions as “one of the biggest known data protection violations in history.” It was also noted that the miniscule penalty would not dissuade future abuses. The maximum penalty currently allowed by law is €150,000. Google made $10.7 billion in net profit last year, over 50,000 times the amount of the penalty, stated by The Times of India.
Program Errors or Negligence?
Google claims the privacy violations are nothing more than program errors. However, numerous other countries have filed suits as a result of the company’s negligence. Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, told the New York Times that the company does its best to respect privacy rights and does not deliberately farm private data.
DailyTech revealed that Google settled privacy litigation with 38 U.S. states in March for $7 million. The company was also ordered to establish an internal privacy program, run educational advertisements in major newspapers of the effected states, and explain to users how to encrypt their data while using Wi-Fi via a YouTube video.
These developments shed light on just how easily individuals and corporations can gain access to private information through wireless networks. There are several precautions that can maximize your security while using Wi-Fi. Specific services, such as LifeLock Identity Protection, can not only aid in preventing security breaches, it will save you the time and hassle of calling your credit card companies to cancel accounts.
Almost all wireless routers have security technology known as Wi-Fi Protected Access Version Two (WPA2). It encrypts information as it travels from point A to point B. Always make sure this feature is on and make certain the router access password is at least eight letters long, includes both lower and upper case letters, numerals and at least one punctuation mark.
On the Go
Smartphones far outsell PCs, which means hotspots are utilized more than ever. It's best to connect only to those that require a password to maximize privacy and security. You can also use a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which encrypts all data sent or received by your device. VPN services are relatively inexpensive, and can be installed on most smartphones. By using a VPN, you can use those free Wi-Fi hotspots without worrying about hackers or corporations “accidentally” scooping up your personal information.