Is This Fine Large Enough To Stop Google’s Data Violations?


In order to create the street level view for its navigation tool, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) may have overstepped its bounds; a German privacy regulator discovered in 2010 that the technology giant had collected personal data — including fragments of personal emails and photographs — from Wi-Fi routers in Germany and many other countries throughout the world. Since this behavior was uncovered, the company has claimed that the data collection by its fleet of Street View automobiles occurred inadvertently as the the vehicles passed homes when creating panoramic maps that cover approximately five millions miles of roads in 49 countries.

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While the data collection may have been the result of a programmer’s error, as Google explained, the German agency that originally uncovered the mistake fined Google 145,000 euros — or approximately $190,000 — on Monday, terming the company’s collection of personal data for Google Maps both systematic and illegal. As The New York Times, reported, the regulatory body also called on other European lawmakers to significantly raise fines for violation of data protection laws such as this this one.

Johannes Caspar — the data protection supervisor in the German city-state of Hamburg — told the Times that the fine, which was close to the 150,000-euro maximum the agency could levy, was much too low to stop corporations as large as Google from illegally collecting data. While the fine handed to Google was the largest ever assessed by European regulators over the practice, it only amounted to 0.002 percent of the company’s 2012 net profit of $10.7 billion…

“As long as violations of data protection law are penalized with such insignificant sums, the ability of existing laws to protect personal privacy in the digital world, with its high potential for abuse, is barely possible,” Caspar said.

Google has apologized for its actions. Peter Fleischer, the Google global privacy counsel, reiterated the company’s regrets Monday in a statement seen by the publication, adding that it had implemented new measures to prevent similar violations from happening in the future. “We work hard to get privacy right at Google,” he said. “But in this case we didn’t, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue.” Fleischer also restated Google’s earlier explanation for the violation, saying the data had been inadvertently collected. “We never wanted this data, and didn’t use it or even look at it,” Mr. Fleischer added. “We cooperated fully with the Hamburg D.P.A. throughout its investigation.”

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The company said it will not appeal the fine.

In terms of fines, Google is on somewhat of a hot streak. While Google settled allegations in 2012 that it had been secretly collecting data from Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) Safari Internet browser for $22.5 million, the company avoided potentially tens of millions of dollars in fines from the Federal Trade Commission, which investigated antitrust accusations regarding how the company prioritized its own products in search results. However, the company is still facing allegations over its privacy policies in six European countries.

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