Google has denied 'pre-preparing' the hard disk, shown to the UK's privacy regulator two years ago, that contained data scooped up from people's Wi-Fi networks by Street View cars.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) decided not to punish Google over the practice in 2010, after looking at the drive's contents. The regulator also allowed the company to delete all the data it had gathered. However, after the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined Google for obstructing its stateside investigation this year, the ICO decided to reopen the UK case.
ICO enforcement chief Steve Eckersley wrote to Google a week ago with a list of questions. Google responded on Monday, with the full text of the response being obtained and published by The Telegraph. In it, Google privacy chief Peter Fleischer said the company was "surprised that the ICO has decided to re-open its investigation into this matter".
"Your letter of 11 June contains a number of statements and assumptions that incorrectly suggest that the disk made available to the ICO for analysis was 'pre-prepared' and not representative of the payload collection," Fleischer wrote to Eckersley.
"With respect to the ICO's inspection of the payload data in July 2010, the data was not 'pre-prepared'. A hard drive used by one of the Google Street View vehicles that drove in the UK was 'mounted' at Google's Belgian data centre where it, along with other Street View drives, was physically located at the time," Fleischer wrote.
According to Fleischer, the only 'preparation' apart from mounting the drive was to convert the drive's binary data into plain text. He also reiterated Google's denial that there was "widespread knowledge" within the organisation that the data collection was taking place — indeed, the FCC report and others have concluded that it was the work of one rogue engineer.
"The documents we produced to the FCC, the salient portions of which we have provided to you, show that, at most, a few people early in the project could have seen some red flags in a document or an email and inquired further. But that assumes too much. These few individuals are unequivocal that they did not learn about the payload collection until May 2010," Fleischer wrote.