Privacy tsar drops 2nd Google investigation

Privacy tsar drops 2nd Google investigation

Summary: The Australian Privacy Commissioner has said that he will not launch a second investigation into Google's Wi-Fi snooping using Street View cars, despite a damning report from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released several weeks ago.

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TOPICS: Google, Privacy, Security
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The Australian Privacy Commissioner has said that he will not launch a second investigation into Google's Wi-Fi snooping using Street View cars, despite a damning report from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released several weeks ago.

Google Street View car

(Google Street View car in Bristol image by
Byrion Smith, CC2.0)

In 2010, Google admitted that its Street View cars collected the personal and private data of individuals via wireless networks, while mapping cities in more than 30 countries. Google said that the cars were supposed to collect just the locations of Wi-Fi access points, but that they also, inadvertently, collected email and text messages, passwords, internet-usage histories and other data from unsecured wireless networks spanning two years, beginning in 2007.

A FCC report, released last month, blamed a "rogue" engineer working on the Street View project for inserting the Wi-Fi snooping code into the cars, but accused senior managers within Google of being aware and signing off on the Wi-Fi snooping project. The FCC also fined Google $25,000 for deliberately impeding and delaying its investigation.

At the time of the release of the report, the Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgram told The Australian Financial Review that his office would examine the FCC report and determine whether to refer the matter to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), but today told ZDNet Australia that there would be no new investigation.

"I have decided not to open another investigation into Google Street View," he said in a statement. "In reaching this decision, I have considered the FCC's report and don't consider that a new investigation would reveal any information that would change our original finding."

In 2010, the then-Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis found that Google had had breached the Australian Privacy Act through the collection of Wi-Fi payload data, and had referred the matter to the AFP. But Google was let off the hook as the AFP had determined that the collection was "inadvertent", rather than deliberate.

In response to the commissioner's earlier findings, Google published an apology to all Australians and conducted a privacy impact assessment, in consultation with the Australian Privacy Commissioner. Pilgrim noted that in 2010 the commissioner was not in a position to enforce any undertakings on Google as a result of the investigation, but under privacy legislation currently before Parliament, he would be given powers to impose enforceable undertakings, if a similar issue arose again.

"I am pleased that the government has introduced a Bill into the Parliament to amend the Privacy Act that will, amongst other things, give me access to enforceable remedies for investigations of this type."

Topics: Google, Privacy, Security

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Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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