UK reopens Google Street View investigation after FCC probe

UK reopens Google Street View investigation after FCC probe

Summary: The U.K.'s data protection regulator is reinvestigating Google a year after it closed the case, following an FCC report claiming the search giant knew of the data collection.

TOPICS: Google

Google is back under the watchful eyes of the U.K. data protection agency, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), following an FCC report claiming Google was aware of an engineer's code that collected more data than perhaps was necessary.

You'd probably think the engineers were wondering why the hard drives in the cars needed changing more often than the cars themselves needed refueling.

Now so are the U.K. data authorities.

The ICO's head of enforcement Steve Eckersley sent a sternly-written letter [PDF] to Google senior vice-president Alan Eustace demanding "prompt" answers to a list of seven questions explaining why the street-level mapping Google cars were able to collect so much data.

Google said during the first investigation that the data collection was a "simple mistake". But ho

The ICO wants to know "precisely what type of data and sensitive personal data was captured within the payload data collected in the U.K." It also wants to know when Google management became aware of the issue, and why the data scope found by the FCC investigation were not disclosed to the ICO when it visited in July 2010.

Interestingly, the ICO also wants to see "copies of the original software design document" and any "subsequent version control". This is the ICO looking to see whether a data trail leads back to Google building the software to collect the data by design or not.

The letter went on, claiming Google had collected "some sensitive data" including "complete email messages, email headings, instant messages and their content, logging-in credentials, medical listings and legal infractions, information in relation to online dating and visits to pornographic sites and data contained in video and audio files".

Not only could Google see which porn sites you were visiting, it could likely see the porn itself.

The ICO, following a U.S. investigation, thought the matter was over and done with, and dropped an investigation after Google said it had "mistakenly collected" data from unencrypted wireless networks. It believed "sensitive personal data had not been captured nor was there detriment to individuals," and no fines were issued.

And then other data protection agencies stepped in, saw things differently, and Google was given a thorough slap on the wrist.

The FCC found that Google's management was aware of the data slurping Street View cars. It published a heavily redacted report, but Google responded by publishing the whole thing for reasons of "transparency".

It also fined the search giant $25,000 after it was found to have "deliberately impeded and delayed" a federal investigation into whether U.S. wiretap laws were broken or not.

However, U.K. wiretap laws --- or its "surveillance" laws, I'm not splitting hairs --- may have been violated, which could lead to a police investigation into the matter. At very least, the U.K.'s data protection laws may have been broken.

The ICO can impose an unlimited fine if a legal case reaches a higher Crown Court for serious offenses.

A Google spokesperson told the BBC it was "happy to answer the ICO's questions," but claimed the regulator "never even looked at" the payload data, despite Eckersley claiming it was "viewed".

The ICO said there will be a "formal follow-up process within the next couple of months" to ensure its recommendations have been put in place. "All personal data unlawfully collected by Google has been destroyed," a spokesperson said.

Image credit: CBS Interactive/CNET.



Topic: Google

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Does anyone think Google will be any more cooperative with the UK?

    Keep dreaming.

    Me thinks Google can tolerate USD$25k (16k Quid) fines for some time to come.
    • I agree. As long as they can make more money from the snooping

      then the fines cost them, they'll keep at it.
      William Farrel
  • Google Wifi Location Snoop...

    Have you ever wondered how Google can pinpoint your exact house location when you click on the little "my location" button in Google Maps? Wifi is a great way to broadcast your location. I noticed that following the Google Street View release in Canada, the location accuracy of my house was precise. Kind of chilling actually. I'm pretty sure Google cross referenced then endpoint IP with the GPS location.

    But, on another note, if we didn't have Google Street View, we would miss out on these entertaining images: We would also miss out on high quality Google maps generated via Google Street View GPS tracks.
    • Yet it's considered a good thing

      When Microsoft does it. Don't let anyone fool you Microsoft has been harvesting the same data that Google is being vilified for. the fact that Microsoft has been doing if for over 5 years doesn't even come as a surprise. Microsoft knows what network your computer is connected to, and what the network password is. But I figure they'll get another pass from ZDNet on this too.
      Jumpin Jack Flash
      • .

        Show the proof or stop crying like a little baby. Seriously... the way you go on is like you own Google and these decisions affect your life....
  • Sure investigate more. No problem.

    Google can show that there was no intent to collect private data. It just happened. Almost anything in the air is free use if the sender has not encrypted. Gee, maybe someone should have thought of that. Too late.
    • .

      It's obviously not free to use, or they wouldnt be under investigation you twit.
    • Not free to use anything over the air

      Here in the UK we have a thing called the Telecommunications Act with several ammendments which amongst other things basically states that if you receive a transmission by accident you must not retain it or take any action otherwise you will be committing an offence. To deliberately intercept transmissions is an offence.
      Dr BobM
  • dfsasdaf
  • shut down google's dirty business.

    Thieves in suits, thats google, shut them down. Their free business model is at the cost of hundreds of thousands of small business which has gone bust. Shameless politicians sleeping with google...
    • you are full of s**t!

      google created millions of jobs. It is obvious that M$ and apple are the puppeteers instigating the government against google!
      The Linux Geek
      • Completely obvious

        that Google was illegally spying on UK citizens.
      • .

        where are these millions of jobs google created?
      • Define created

        How do you define created millions of jobs? Google's workforce headcount? People that have gotten jobs by searching through google's services? Companies hiring people due to something Google has done?

        That statement is patently false as written, define what numbers you're talking about or stop being Google's resident butt-boy.
    • The Linux Geek is about as full of crap as Owlnet and the rest of you...

      Where are these hundreds of thousands of businesses that have gone bust because of Google? What has Google stolen? How has Google illegally spied on UK citizens?

      Without any proof, all I see are libelous statements. The Linux Geek is apparently a twitter troll (I'm copyrighting that) but you guys are easily bated being blind haters of Google with no real apparent reason except your own ignorance.
  • Wow. An even more asinine comment than in your other article.

    "You???d probably think the engineers were wondering why the hard drives in the cars needed changing more often than the cars themselves needed refueling."

    I'll point out here as well that Google was shooting 360 degree panoramas using nine cameras. I'm sure the 600GB total WIFI data collected was a drop in the bucket compared to the total hard drive space used.

    I have posed the question before and no one has stepped up to answer it: Exactly what do people think Google's purpose was to collect random sampling of WIFI traffic as their cars drove past and quickly out of range? If they did it intentionally, I'd like to know the economic advantage that random sampling of data would give them. What business model could be monetized from such an endeavor?