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

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
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

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.

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.

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