Privacy watchdogs did not take a uniform approach to dealing with Google's Street View collection of Wi-Fi data, according to the European Commission.
Google's collection of internet traffic from unsecured Wi-Fi networks last year as part of its Street View operation should have been met with a coordinated approach and response from European privacy watchdogs, European justice commissioner Viviane Reding told a 'privacy platform' meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.
"In recent months you may have heard about concerns in many member states related to online mapping services, including pictures of streets and people's homes," said Reding. "A more coordinated approach at EU level is needed to address such cases in a consistent and effective way. We had the proof that how we are doing things now is neither consistent nor effective."
Privacy authorities across Europe had differing approaches to investigations. For example, authorities in France asked Google to retain French data, and conducted an in-depth technical investigation, while Irish authorities asked Google to delete the data.
Commission justice spokesman Newman told ZDNet UK that a lack of privacy consistency across Europe was not good for businesses, or for Europe.
"Google said that its Street View [cars] had inadvertently collected Wi-Fi traffic, but different countries had different responses to exactly the same problem," said Newman. "Some countries said Google should delete the data, while some said Google should keep the data in case of legal action. We can't have a single market if we have divergent ways of dealing with the same problem."
In the UK, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) did not take a consistent approach even in its own investigation. The ICO first told Google to delete the data it had collected, acting on a Google assertion that the search and advertising giant had not collected any personal data. An ICO investigation in July 2010, which was conducted by lawyers, not technologists, concluded that Google had not collected data which contained any 'meaningful personal details'. After Google admitted that it had, in fact, collected meaningful personal details, the ICO decided to revive its probe. The ICO then found Google 'in significant breach' of data laws in November.
Google declined to comment on Thursday.