Governments that had previously closed the book on Street View privacy investigations appear to be considering “round two,” in the wake of the FCC report that asserted that the personal data collected was not inadvertent but intentional.
Privacy regulators in both the UK and Australia are now considering reopening Street View privacy cases that were previously closed. Several other European nations had concluded similar investigations with either no penalties or relatively minor fines assessed against Google.
Those generally favorable outcomes for Google were largely based on earlier statements by company executives that the personal data collection was entirely unintentional. Apologies were issued and Google was largely given the benefit of the doubt by regulators.
The FCC finding that the so-called “payload data” was intentionally collected and Google executives were informed of this could well be the trigger of a new round of investigations across Europe.
While any fines levied against Google would be almost meaningless, the negative fallout from a public relations perspective would be more worrying to the company. The notion that Google is “spying” on users is not an idea the company wants to germinate in the public mind.
Google was fined $25,000 for non-cooperation with the US FCC investigation but the case was closed with no finding of illegality.
Postscript: Subsequent to this report the Australian privacy commissioner has decided not to reopen the Street View investigation in that country. Here’s the full statement verbatim:
I have decided not to open another investigation into Google Street View. In 2010 the Office found Google in breach of the Privacy Act after it was confirmed that Google collected personal information through unsecured WiFi payload data from its Street View vehicles. Google accepted this finding and agreed to the following undertakings:
- Publish an apology to Australians for its collection of unsecured WiFi ‘payload’ data
- Conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment on any new Street view data collection activities in Australia and provide these to the office
- Regularly consult with the Australian Privacy Commissioner about personal data collection activities in Australia that include personal information
I am satisfied that Google has complied with those undertakings and continues to keep our office informed of new developments. In reaching this decision, I have considered the FCC’s report and don’t consider that a new investigation would reveal any information that would change our original finding. In the case of the 2010 Google investigation, undertakings were agreed between Google and the office as the Privacy Act does not currently allow me to impose any enforceable undertakings. I am pleased that the Government has introduced a Bill into the Parliament to amend the Privacy Act that will, amongst other things, give me access to enforceable remedies for investigations of this type.