Canada slaps Google for Street View Wi-Fi intercepts

Canada's privacy commissioner says, however, that the matter is resolved if Google deletes data and agrees to improve privacy training.

The Canadian government concluded today that Google's collection of fragments of Wi-Fi transmissions violated the law, but also said that the recording was the "result of a careless error" and was not intentional.

Jennifer Stoddart, Canada's privacy commissioner, said she would consider the investigation closed and the matter resolved as long as Google revises its internal procedures to improve "the privacy training it provides all its employees" and deletes or segregates any data relating to Canadian citizens.

In e-mail to CNET, a Google spokesman said the company is working with the privacy commissioner: "As we have said before, we are profoundly sorry for having mistakenly collected payload data from unencrypted networks. As soon as we realized what had happened, we stopped collecting all Wi-Fi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities."

Stoddart's report sheds a bit more light on what led to the erroneous collection of about 12 Blu-ray discs' worth of Wi-Fi transmissions worldwide. She said that her investigation revealed that an unnamed Google engineer failed to follow company procedures by not sending design specifications for Street View code to the company's legal department for review.

"Our investigation also learned that in the code design-procedure document for the particular code later to be used for the collection of Wi-Fi signals, the engineer did identify one or more privacy concerns about the information collection," but viewed them as only superficial, the report says. "These relate to the fact that Google could obtain sufficient data to precisely triangulate a user's position at a given time."

The errant data collection has led to a flurry of investigations by privacy commissioners and lawsuits, including at least three that are seeking class action status in the United States. The U.K. information commissioner concluded the data did not "include meaningful personal details," but a French commission believes some passwords were intercepted.

The Spanish data protection agency yesterday took legal action against Google after its analysis found legal violations, including the alleged transfer of Wi-Fi fragments to the United States.

Disclosure: McCullagh is married to a Google employee not involved in Street View.

 

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