U.K. regulator to Google: Delete Street View data -- or else

The Information Commissioner's Office says Google must delete its Street View data within 35 days or face a criminal offense for contempt of court.

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Don Reisinger
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A Google Street View car in action.
A Google Street View car in action. James Martin/CNET

The U.K.'s top privacy watchdog has decided that Google won't be hit with any fines over its collection of Street View data.

The Information Commissioner Office (ICO) announced on Friday that it has placed a "legal requirement" on Google, forcing the company to delete any data it still has on hand related to its Street View snooping. The company had offered to delete data back in 2010. But Google kept some data on hand, leading the ICO to reopen its investigation in April 2012.

"Google has...confirmed that it still has in its possession a small portion of...data collected by our Street View vehicles in the UK," Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, wrote in a letter released by the ICO last year. He said that "Google apologizes for this error."

The ICO was not pleased with that revelation. It had signed an agreement with Google in November 2010, requiring the company to fully remove all Street View data it had collected on U.K.-based residents by December 2010. But Google didn't delete everything.

Friday's ruling is essentially the decree the ICO sent down in 2010, requiring that Google delete all data within the next 35 days. Upon completion, Google must inform the ICO that the data has been deleted. If the company fails to delete the data within that period, it could be hit with a criminal offense for contempt of court.

"The ICO's investigation found that the collection of payload data by the company was the result of procedural failings and a serious lack of management oversight including checks on the code," the ICO said in a statement Friday. "But the investigation also found there was insufficient evidence to show that Google intended, on a corporate level, to collect personal data."

Based on that, the ICO decided that Google should not be monetarily fined. Instead, the company can simply delete the remaining data and move on.

CNET has contacted Google for comment on the ICO's ruling. We will update this story when we have more information.