ICO: Google Wi-Fi data contained no 'meaningful details'

ICO: Google Wi-Fi data contained no 'meaningful details'

Summary: After asking Google to delete data it had collected from unsecured Wi-Fi networks, the ICO has asked for samples of the data, following complaints from campaign groups

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TOPICS: Security
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The UK's privacy watchdog has visited Google to look at samples of data collected by the company from unsecured Wi-Fi networks, and says the data was free of 'meaningful personal details'.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which in May said the data should be deleted as it was unlikely to investigate, said in a statement on Tuesday that it had visited Google premises on 15 July to assess samples of the data.

"[While] Google considered it unlikely that it had collected anything other than fragments of content, we wanted to make our own judgement as to the likelihood that significant personal data had been retained and, if so, the extent of any intrusion," said the ICO statement. "The information we saw does not include meaningful personal details that could be linked to an identifiable person."

ZDNet UK understands that the ICO decided to investigate the data following complaints by organisations including campaign group Privacy International. "We will be alerting Privacy International and others who have complained to us of our position," the ICO said in its statement.

The ICO said it recognised it had only seen a sample of the UK data, and that investigations by other countries' data protection authorities may find personally identifiable data had been collected in those countries. Google is currently being investigated by data protection authorities in a number of countries including France, which has said that Google intercepted passwords and fragments of email, Canada and Australia.

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Google collected 19 million records in the UK through its Street View cars programme, but the privacy watchdog does not think it proportionate to examine all of the data, ZDNet UK has learned.

"As we have only seen samples of the records collected in the UK we recognise that other data protection authorities conducting a detailed analysis of all the payload data collected in their jurisdictions may nevertheless find samples of information which can be linked to identifiable individuals," said the ICO statement. "However, on the basis of the samples we saw we are satisfied so far that it is unlikely that Google will have captured significant amounts of personal data."

The ICO added it had not seen any evidence that the data captured by Google had caused or could cause any harm to individuals. The watchdog added that it will be reviewing evidence from the international investigations to see if they shed light on Google's data protection practices.

A Google spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Tuesday said the company was "always open to answering questions" from the ICO.

Google is currently the subject of an investigation by the Metropolitan Police over the data collection. The Google spokesperson declined to comment on the ongoing investigation. The Metropolitan Police had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

Topic: Security

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com. He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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4 comments
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  • The ICO dodges the bullet every time. It never appears to consider the principle that all this snooping is just plain wrong in principle, that theft and use of our personal data is unacceptable to the vast majority, not to mention a bloody nuisance. In any case, how can the ICO investigate only (selected) snippets of information, which was supposed to have been deleted anyway (wrong decision), to reach a reliable conclusion.
    We read, in a separate ZDNet news item today, that a suit has been raised against the media industry for the development and use of persistent cookies that reinstall themselves from within hidden files in the Flash Player, control thereby passing out of the individuals' control as they are unable to permanently delete these cookies. Lets hope the suit is successful.

    Further, although not reported on ZDNet, TalkTalk have been caught out using technology to track and follow their users Internet activity, ostensibly to safeguard their customers. Apart from any privacy and issues and legal semantics, the technology presumably doubles the traffic (bandwidth), which may explain why the performance of my TalkTalk connection has degraded so much recently. Presumably there will be more developments in due course.

    I am constantly surprised about the lack of comment over the years on ZDNet about all the issues which affect our freedoms, rights and privacy. Do ZDNet readers just accept it all in atotally submissive state of apathy. Remember, when it's all a done deal there's no turning back, just more of the same. Stand up to the plate and be counted. Alexander Hanff seems to represent the only resistance, alone he can do little.

    Some 25 years ago, my then young children accompanied me when I worked in Philippines, after their mother died. Their one abiding memory is of the complete freedom that they experienced. Of course, life was simpler then.
    The Former Moley
  • please revise your article to include the firefox preference- and values:

    geo.wifi.uri


    The only value to knowing the location of a user on the interweb is with possession of a lawfully issued subpoena.

    ZERO other people need geoip location information
    anonymous
  • Further to my comment above about TalkTalk (Para 3), My bank site was impossibly slow this morning, and I wondered if there was any connection to TalkTalk following my movements and what the Bank might be thinking about this TalkTalk activity on a Bank site.

    More details of TalTalk's secret snooping dubbed StalkStalk can be found here:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/07/26/talktalk_stalkstalk/
    The Former Moley
  • I find it amazing how a individual guy who wonders into a non secured network can be pursued, and yet google wonders uninvited into millions of home networks around the world collating data, and then are given a slap on the wrist for it and sent on there way.

    No assurance for us the public that our data has in fact being deleted under scrutiny, google management backtrack on previous statements and then blame a past engineer, so Alan Eustace does not know the code base he is dispatching in these cars?

    My conclusion of google management practices accomplished lier's.
    CA-aba1d