European regulators may reopen Street View probes after FCC report

More trouble for Google in Europe as privacy regulators there consider reopening or broadening their investigations into Google’s collection of personal data through its Street View service.

The move comes after the engineer who wrote the software code seemed to suggest that the collection was not inadvertent as the search giant had claimed.

The admission from Google in 2010 that it had collected the data including emails, passwords and other personal information from unprotected wireless networks set off a furor in Europe, which has more stringent privacy regulations than the United States.

All of the inquiries were settled except for two in Germany after Google apologized. But a new report from the Federal Communications Commission, first detailed by the Los Angeles Times, revealed that the engineer had in fact told members of the Street View team, including a supervisor, that the software he designed would collect the data. He also detailed his plans in a report to the entire team. The members of that team interviewed by the FCC denied knowing about the data collection and said they never read the report.


Federal agencies in the United States that investigated concluded Google had not violated the nation’s wiretapping laws. But the revelations could spell new trouble for Google in Europe, where this type of data collection is illegal.

“Of course this will have a big impact,” Johannes Caspar, the data protection commissioner for Hamburg, whose investigation brought the data collection to light, told the New York Times.

“This is apparently a totally different situation than what we thought initially. We had been told that it was a simple mistake, as the company had told us. But now, we are learning that this wasn’t a mistake and that people within the company knew this information was being collected. That puts it in a totally different light.”

The French privacy regulator, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés, said Wednesday that it would also review the FCC report and consider its options.

“We will study the Federal Communications Commission’s report and consider what further action, if any, needs to be taken,” Greg Jones, a spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s Office, the data protection agency in Britain, told the L.A. Times in an email. “Google provided us with a formal undertaking in November 2010 about their future conduct, following their failure in relation to the collection of WiFi data by their Street View cars. This included a provision for the ICO to audit Google’s privacy practices. The audit was published in August 2011 and we will be following up on it in June to ensure our recommendations have been put in place.”

Google has said it hopes to put the matter behind it.


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