Google Can't Get Off the Hook as the Wi-Fi Investigation Grows

Last Updated Jul 22, 2010 5:00 PM EDT

Google's (GOOG) Wi-Fi privacy debacle continues to get worse. At this point, at least 37 states are involved in the investigation, led by Connecticut's attorney general Richard Blumenthal, into what data Google recorded from private Wi-Fi networks and what it planned to do with the information. And even if the issue doesn't fall heavily on the cares of consumers, the company has begun to learn how hellaciously furious a government body scorned can be.

At this point, the states have asked Google whether it had actually tested the software it ran on its Street View cars.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal also asked for the names of the people responsible for the software, which Google has said was supposed to only use Wi-Fi to determine location, not to download personal email and other data."We will take all appropriate steps -- including potential legal action if warranted -- to obtain complete, comprehensive answers," he said in a press statement.
Google has admitted to having the vehicles roam multiple countries and record data from private Wi-Fi networks, though it claims that the entire activity was a mistake. As I've noted before, there is no possible explanation that makes Google look responsible or in control. Travel the decision chain and the company always winds up in a spot of massive management failure.

As it tries to deal with an increasingly skeptical body politic, Google has stepped up its lobbying activities in Washington, D.C., spending $2.72 million in the first half of this year, plus another $470,000 to hire lobbyists.

Google has had a lot of irons in the fire: net neutrality, the AdMob acquisition, and taking potshots at Apple's (AAPL) iAd mobile advertising platform. You can bet that the Wi-Fi debacle has made the job harder, and that's likely to continue. Google has many resources, but how can it lobby in D.C. and still manage relationships with dozens of states that ask more and more inconvenient questions?

High tech, for all its years in place, is largely adolescent in its approach to regulation and the danger that irritated policy makers and politicians can represent, especially during an election year. At this point, Google is too far down the road of arrogant indifference, and at this point it may take a 1990s Microsoft-sized forced reconsideration to change.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.