Once again proving that British Members of Parliament were right in their assessment that the UK Information Commissioner has no real power, the ICO has (again) cleared Google of wrongdoing in their WiFi data collection mess in Britain and will allow them to delete all of the WiFi payload data within the next 9 months.
As the BBC reported today,
Following [their initial] audit, the ICO ruled that "no significant breach" had occurred.
But following publication of the Canadian data commissioner's findings, the ICO changed this to a "significant breach"
Further, the ICO ruled that there no grounds for fining Google, the one action they can take against a company in violation of Internet privacy laws. Further,
...[The] ICO is only able to audit companies that have given prior permission for such an investigation...[and] the UK currently has no public body to investigate interception breaches, a gap that that led the European Commission to launch legal action against it...Following the ICO's ruling, Google has promised to offer privacy training to its staff.
I'll bet they did. "Come into my parlor," said the spider to the fly.
I'm not suggesting that Google's actions were so egregious as to require some horrific punishment. Google is still going to go on being Google and we're all going to continue searching merrily at google.com. However, when Google clearly oversteps reasonable bounds of privacy and governments choose to simply look the other way despite public outcry, one has to wonder what it would take to send a message to Google about the importance of dealing respectfully with the countless petabytes of information with which we (knowingly or unknowingly) entrust them.
As CNet reports, German aversion to the service is so great that Google's own German headquarters ended up being obscured from Street View:
Almost 3 percent of German property owners decided that they would prefer their buildings to be objects of mystery rather than desire. So they have requested that their buildings be blurred out on the mapping service.
And so it has passed that Google's own Munich office, which happens to be in a building that contains other, perhaps more privacy-conscious tenants, is blurred out on Google's own revolutionary visual recording of the world.
It remains to be seen what comes of other investigations across the EU and the US regarding the data Google collected during their Street View mapping activities. In the UK, at least, it looks like Google is safe, if only because of ineffective agencies rather than because of an actual finding of innocence.