Missouri AG looks into Google Wi-Fi mess

His letter to Google is a sign that U.S. states are taking an interest in the affair

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is asking Google to answer questions about how the company's widespread wireless-network sniffing activities may have affected local residents.

In a letter to Google Friday, Koster says it's not clear whether Google broke state law, but adds that "there can be no doubt that the company's conduct implicates the privacy concerns of Missouri residents."

The attorney general asked Google to explain how Wi-Fi data collected by the company's StreetView vehicles was used and what it's done to keep the potentially sensitive information safe. He also asked Google to hold on to the data until the appropriate regulators can study the matter.

"We expect Google to provide information to us so we can ascertain whether there is any threat to Missourians' private information, and take action if necessary to protect it," Koster said in a statement.

This latest development shows that state authorities are also taking an interest in a controversy that has reportedly caught the attention of U.S. regulators. Agencies in France, Germany and Canada have already opened investigations, and Google is facing at least seven class-action lawsuits over the matter.

Google StreetView cars, which drive around cities taking photos for use with Google Maps, had been collecting Wi-Fi networking data for years to boost the accuracy of some of its location-based products. But the company recently admitted that they have also inadvertently recorded the contents of e-mails and Web pages on unsecured wireless networks.

Google blamed the debacle on the actions of a single engineer and is now investigating the matter. In the meantime, pressure from regulators worldwide is piling up.

Consumer advocate John Simpson said he was happy to see Missouri asking for an explanation. "Google's ... operation compromised consumers' privacy in the very heartland of America," said Simpson, an advocate with California's Consumer Watchdog, in an e-mail message. "The Internet giant needs to be held accountable."

Google could not immediately be reached for comment.

Robert McMillan can be reached at robert_mcmillan@idg.com. He is on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/bobmcmillan.

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