Google will pay a $7 million fine to settle a multistate investigation into the Internet search leader's interception of emails, passwords and other sensitive information sent several years ago over unprotected wireless networks throughout the world.
The agreement announced Tuesday covers 38 states and the District of Columbia.
It closes an inquiry opened in 2010 shortly after Google revealed that company cars taking street-level photos for its online mapping service also had been grabbing personal data transmitted over Wi-Fi networks that had been set up in homes and businesses without requiring a password to gain access.
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It's the largest penalty that Google Inc. has paid so far in the U.S. for the snooping. News of the penalty leaked out last week.
Google isn't acknowledging any wrongdoing in the settlement and maintained that the collection wasn't illegal because the data was taken from public locations and broadcast by the victims in plain text.
Still, the episode has been embarrassing for the company, and it has repeatedly said it has implemented new procedures to prevent a similar episode.
"We work hard to get privacy right at Google. But in this case we didn't, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue," Google said in a statement to NBC News. "The project leaders never wanted this data, and didn't use it or even look at it."
Google agreed to destroy the data as part of the settlement and to launch an employee privacy training program that it must continue for 10 years.