No, really, Google's fine: UK allows Google to delete Brit WiFi data

No, really, Google's fine: UK allows Google to delete Brit WiFi data

Summary: Google's OK...No, wait, they broke the law...Wait, we can't do anything about it anyway...Er, nevermind (to paraphrase the UK's Internet watchdog).

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TOPICS: Google
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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.

Topic: Google

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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5 comments
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  • Chris I think you are wrong

    Really Google did nothing wrong. People failed to setup proper encryption on their wifi. When you blast data over unlicenced radio frequencies you are not exercising due dilligence and its basically nothing more than a FM station broadcasting, long as you have a proper tuner (in this case a wifi radio). At the very least do mac address filtering (for what its worth) which would prevent the "autoconnect" action that happens when a unencrypted wifi point is around - that would at least express that HEY you [i]deliberately[/i] went around the crude and minimal security measures put in place. I dont want people seeing my traffic, so I have it encrypted with 256bit AES-CCMP WPA2 PSK (soon to move to WPA2-ENT) so if anyone broke through that and viewed my traffic then they are in the wrong, otherwise - shame on me for not taking action. (Though I can't expect Europe to hold their Citizens accountable for anything - considering its a Nanny State).
    JT82
    • RE: No, really, Google's fine: UK allows Google to delete Brit WiFi data

      @JT82 That's the stupidest comment I've ever read.
      jonnycollison
    • RE: No, really, Google's fine: UK allows Google to delete Brit WiFi data

      @JT82 Most people have no idea what WiFi is, what encryption is and how to set it up.
      themarty
      • RE: No, really, Google's fine: UK allows Google to delete Brit WiFi data

        @themarty

        You are quite right that most people have no idea about Wifi and encryption. Most people I deal with don't like passwords, and when they use them, they choose ridiculous four letter passwords.

        I think that this issue has been overblown and obscures the fact that Google spies on us in a myriad other ways. From their beginnings, when they decided to commercialise the company, they began profiling people through their searches. They expanded this surreptitious accumulation of data by providing various free scripts which we find on so many websites. Even this one uses Google-analytics which is very common and feeds Google the same data as the webhost.

        But, since their innocent beginnings, they have so many other ways to expand their profiles on you: Gmail, Contacts, Calendar, Docs, Voice, TV, Android, Chrome, Chrome OS, and the list goes on. Every service and app they "give away" is designed to expand their spynet.

        The danger is not in any one bit of data that they gather, but, in the accumulation of data that they compile. If I use their Search, I would never use any other of their services. They have the biggest database on the most people of any company in the world. This makes them very dangerous.
        jorjitop
  • RE: No, really, Google's fine: UK allows Google to delete Brit WiFi data

    If Google would like to collect your private data, there are lots of other ways to do it. And a lot less noticeable.<br><br>First it was Microsoft and Google was great competition! Now it's Google that's way to successful... <br><br>It's good that some people keep an eye on Google, but please stop waiting "for the blood to drip out".
    maikr