Is Newest Google Privacy Misstep a Sign of Things to Come?


The U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office has given Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) 35 days to delete any remaining data it “mistakenly collected” while taking photographs for its Street View service. Google was not issued a fine and will face criminal action if it does not adequately purge the data within the given time-frame.

According to the ICO, Google illegally accessed passwords, web addresses, emails, and other data through unsecured wireless networks during its creation of 3D mapping for Street View. Google uses cameras mounted on automated cars to create the popular service and Google has maintained that the incident was a mistake. “We did not want this data, have never used any of it on our products and services, and have sought to delete it as quickly as possible,” Google said.

While Google pledged to destroy all the information it had obtained, it later admitted that some information had been kept accidentally on discs. Stephen Eckersley, ICO’s head of enforcement, said, ”Today’s enforcement notice strengthens the action already taken by our office, placing a legal requirement on Google to delete the remaining payload data identified last year within the next 35 days and immediately inform the ICO if any further discs are found.” Regarding ICO’s decision not to impose a fine, Eckersley said, “The detriment caused to individuals by this breach fails to meet the level required to issue a monetary penalty.”

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This is not the first time Google has come under fire for accessing data through its Street View service. Earlier this year, Google was ordered to pay over $7 million for the collection of personal data through the Street View service in the U.S., on top of a $25,000 fine from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. It was also ordered to destroy any data it had collected from 2008 to 2010 using its Street View service. Additionally, it was found that Google had improperly stored the sensitive information, which included email, text messages, passwords, and web history.

The newest privacy incident comes at a time when Google is under fire from many European countries to increase transparency of their data collecting practices. The French regulator, the CNIL, believes that Google’s privacy policy violates French laws. France is now flanked by Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain.

With private data now at the center of debate following the PRISM leak, Google may continue to battle against the growing suspicion that it has not been as careful with its data practices as it maintains.

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