In our view
Google Maps is one of the Internet's most-visited sites. Click on a location and up pops a map complete with high-resolution images of the community, street or neighborhood.
And with Google's Street View, you can literally look up and down streets, find businesses or parking areas or couples canoodling.
As it turns out, however, those cars with the 360-degree cameras mounted on their roofs were doing more than creating maps. They were mining data at the same time.
Tuesday, it was announced that Google had settled with 38 state attorneys general (Pennsylvania was not one of the litigants) over alleged privacy invasion allegations.
At the same time the cars were digitally filming streets and roads, they also were collecting emails, URLs, even passwords to private accounts.
Google previously contended that most of the information it gathered as it passed residences and businesses with Wi-Fi was fragmentary and accidental. Company officials also said that information was deleted.
But the company later acknowledged that not all of the information had been deleted. And it issued contradictory explanations of how it collected the data and later blamed a rogue engineer for violating privacy laws.
The settlement, which was headed on the states' side by Connecticut Attorney General George Jepson, cost Google a small fine -- $7 million which will be divided among the 38 states -- and requires Google to better police its own employees and to communicate to the public how to avoid privacy invasions.
The problem, of course, is that Google has a history of invading peoples' privacy.
In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission fined Google an unprecedented $22.5 million for having bypassed privacy settings on its Safari browser. Not only was the fine the largest the agency ever levied, it also requires Google to be audited by the FTC for the next 20 years.
As part of this latest settlement, Google is required to hold a privacy week for employees on an annual basis, provide privacy certification programs for certain employees, offer training courses for its attorneys and train employees who deal with privacy matters.
Google's data mining did happen solely in this country. Germany initially investigated Google's claims but dropped its case in November 2012.
While Google's reputation may suffer from this case, the fact that states are beginning to establish privacy boundaries is the bigger issue.
Google's use of 360-degree cameras was permissible because the vehicles traveled on public roads.
But privacy issues -- be they safety commission-operated street cameras or the prototype glasses-like wearable computers that enable you to record audio and video or ordinances regarding remote-controlled aircraft equipped to take photographs that are now being debated in Conoy Township -- are the new front lines in the technology wars.
That will force lawmakers at all levels to deal with privacy rights in ways they never imagined.
Although they will always be behind the curve, at least states are beginning to recognize that regulations are needed to keep this new frontier in check.
Google's Street View vehicles were doing more than photographing locales, they were accessing people's Internet information.