PR Fail: Google to Pay $7 Million for Creeping Out America

Every neighborhood in America has one: that creepy guy who slowly drives around our streets in that weird car during the middle of day, downloading information as our kids play stick ball in the cul-de-sac.

What’s the name of that guy, again? Oh, yeah: Google.

Google has agreed to pay $7 million in a suit filed by 38 states and Washington, D.C., accusing the “Do No Evil” brand of cruising through local neighborhoods in its Street View cars and downloading information from unprotected wireless networks. Yikes. That’s bad.

As industry experts we constantly beat the PR drum on personal privacy, that one aspect of daily life that the public absolutely refuses to trifle with. In short, if you threaten the public’s personal privacy then you’d better be prepared to assemble your crisis communications team at 3am, because you’re asking for trouble. Considering its extensive reach into our lives, Google has maintained a safe distance—or at least the appearance of a safe distance—from achieving a degree of power that would allow it to ruin our lives by pressing a few keys on the keyboard.

But that image is fading.

Google’s Street Views fleet collected personal emails, browsing histories, keywords, text conversations and other confidential details no one would want unless we were famous or in the crosshairs of the Chinese military. But Google went there–and this should be of great concern for the public, because a measly $7 million will not ensure that the brand gets the message. Public sentiment must mobilize to tell Google: Back off.

Of course, some have testified on Google’s behalf. Sure, these wireless networks were unprotected–but leaving our front doors unlocked doesn’t give Google the right to come inside and start reading our mail.

Even our creepy neighbor knows that.