Google coughs up €1m for Street View privacy breaches in Italy

The Italian data watchdog has ruled that the company didn't do enough to let people know when Street View cars would be visiting their neighbourhood.

Google's Street View cars have made it their business to share every detail about the places they visit — but they've been less than forthcoming about alerting people to their presence, according to Italy's data watchdog.

The regulator, Garante per la protezione dei dati personali, announced on Thursday that Google had paid a €1m fine relating to the practices of its Street View vehicles.

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The data protection authority (DPA) said in 2010 "cars belonging to the Mountain View giant roamed Italy's streets without being entirely recognisable as such, therefore the people present in those places were not able to decide whether or not to be photographed".

The amount of the fine was calculated by taking into account Google's "consolidated revenues of over $50bn", the DPA said.

"The fine from the DPA relates to an old case that dates back to 2010. We complied with everything the DPA required from us at the time," a Google spokesman told ZDNet. Google paid the fine a few weeks ago, the DPA said on Thursday.

Back in 2010, the DPA ordered Google to take a series of actions to bring its Street View service, launched in the country in late 2008, in line with Italy's privacy laws.

Among other measures, the company had to state on its website which places would be visited by Street View cars three days in advance and make announcements to that effect in at least two local newspapers and on one local radio station. In addition, Google had to make it clear that the vehicles were collecting images to be used on Street View, using stickers and signs placed on the cars.

Google, the DPA noted, "promptly complied" with its demands. Nonetheless, it added, by not publicising the presence of the vehicles before its 2010 request, Google had breached citizens privacy by publishing "large amounts of individuals' personal data" collected "from significant portions of the country as a whole" online.

In setting the fine the DPA took into account the fact that Google bases its business "mostly on personal data processing" and that it is "one of the main service providers for the information society". As a result, Google "should comply with data privacy laws with utmost accuracy and attention", bearing in mind that any future misuse of that data could have a "potentially huge impact", the DPA said.

It's not the first time Street View has drawn the ire of European privacy watchdogs. In 2013 the search engine was fined €145,000 in Germany after the mapping vehicles illegally collected wi-fi network data, such as usernames and passwords, while gathering images for the service, while France landed it with a €100,000 penalty the year before. South Korea and the US have also fined the company for similar practices.

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