Google will pay a $7 million penalty to settle a multistate investigation into the Internet search leader's collection of emails, passwords and other sensitive information sent over wireless networks several years ago in neighborhoods scattered around the world.
The resolution will close a joint investigation by attorneys general in about 30 states, according to a person familiar with the matter. The person asked not to be identified because the settlement isn't expected to be announced until later this week.
The $7 million will be shared among all the states, the person said. Google's revenue this year is expected to surpass $61 billion. At that pace, Google brings in an average of $7 million in revenue per hour.
The case dates back to 2010 when Google Inc. revealed that company cars taking street-level photos for its online mapping service also had been vacuuming up personal data transmitted over wireless networks that weren't protected by passwords. Google blamed the snooping, which started in 2007, on an overzealous engineer who installed an intrusive piece of software on equipment that the company said was only supposed to detect the location of wireless networks.
But that explanation didn't placate outraged privacy watchdogs or government regulators in the U.S. and other countries who opened investigations into the company's surveillance of Wi-Fi networks that were operating mostly in homes and small businesses.
The multistate inquiry initially was led by Connecticut, which is now part of an executive committee overseeing the matter. A spokeswoman for that state’s Attorney General George Jepsen declined Friday to indicate whether the company had agreed to a settlement.
Google has maintained it didn't break any U.S. laws by grabbing information sent over open networks, but has repeatedly apologized for a breach of online etiquette.
"We work hard to get privacy right at Google," the company said in a statement Friday. "But in this case we didn't, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue."
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission fined Google $25,000 for impeding its investigation.