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Google Street View data fracas revisited by privacy watchdog

The Information Commissioner's Office has reopened the investigation into the Google Street View Wi-Fi data breach of 2010.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
2 min read

Remember when Google had cars driving around streets all around the world intercepting your email and password from your Wi-Fi network? Privacy watchdogs let the company get away with it at the time, but have now reopened the investigation -- fingers crossed it's not too late.

Google has been on the receiving end of severe criticism over the revelation that its Street View cars were collecting data as they drove around photographing streets for Google Maps. The search giant may face belated punishment as the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) this week demands to know more detail about what data was harvested. The problem is, Google may have covered its tracks by deleting the dodgy data in question.

In a sternly-worded letter, ICO head of enforcement Steve Eckersley has asked Google senior vice president Alan Eustace to "Please list precisely what type of personal data and sensitive personal data was captured within the payload data collected within the UK?"

Now I'm no expert, but isn't that the sort of question the Information Commissioner might have thought to ask, I don't know, two years ago?

The controversy began in summer 2010, when it emerged that Google's roving Street View cars were collecting complete email addresses, passwords, and URLs from any unsecured Wi-Fi networks they passed through. Google later admitted to collecting the information, claiming it was accidentally harvested and had never been used.

At the time, the ICO ruled that Google had breached the Data Protection Act, but declined to levy a fine. The faux pas earned the big G serious reprimands in other countries -- including a record fine from privacy watchdogs in France -- but a mere slap on the wrist from British authorities.

Critically, the ICO also instructed Google to delete the collected data. Good for our privacy -- but not so great for a new investigation, as the ICO may not be able to now discover the extent of the data harvested.

Is it too late to revisit the case, or is Google finally going to get what it deserves? Tell me your views in the comments or on our Facebook page.