Google Admits It Didn't Delete "Mistakenly" Gathered Private Data After All

Revelation stirring up a tempest in Europe; U.S. reaction muted so far

Remember all that data Google said its Street View cars had "mistakenly" gobbled up from open Wi-Fi networks a few years ago? Well, now it turns out that Google was -- you guessed it -- mistaken when it said had deleted all the data.

Turns out it still has quite a bit of it, AllThingsD reported recently. Google made the admission in an email to the U.K. Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which in turn released it to the public.

None of this is doing much for Googe's street cred.

"Everything Google has said about 'Street View' has been misleading, even the name! Because of course the cars did not simply capture images of streets, but also intercepted private wi-fi communications," said Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington.

Perhaps even more surprising than the revelation that the data still exists, Google said that if local authorities want to look at the data before it's deleted (again), they're welcome to do so.

Keep in mind the data in question is stuff that Google's Street View cars collected from uprotected networks in homes and offices between 2008 and 2010. It includes emails, documents, photos and whatever else businesses and individuals had on machines connected to their unprotected networks.

Collecting all that private data was seen as extremely offensive by privacy adocates. One must wonder how those privacy advocates will feel when they learn that Google is now offering to hand the private data over to local governments.

Cause for concern

In London, the ICO -- calling the latest revelation "cause for concern" -- demanded to examine the data “immediately” to look for evidence that the privacy breach is  more extensive than Google had originally claimed. 

Rotenberg said the ICO now has a chance to dig a bit deeper than it did the first time around.

"We believe that the ICO failed to conduct an adequate investigation in the first instance, and also that it was a mistake to permit Google to delete the data it had wrongfully obtained," he told ConsumerAffairs.

"Now, the Commission will have the opportunity to examine the data that was seized and pursue a more comprehensive investigation. This is a critical matter," Rotenberg said.

In Ireland, a data protection officer said Google's retention of the data was  ‘‘clearly unacceptable.’’

The latest blunder is so far mostly roiling waters in Europe but is expected to reach American shores shortly, where it will make for even rougher sailing for the Google crew.

Google already faces an ongoing Federal Trade Commission (FTC) anti-trust probe that took on new life in May when it was disclosed that the government had hired a top private attorney to manage to case. 

"Google's motto has always been 'Do no evil.' It should also be 'Do no eavesdropping,'" said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to the Los Angeles Times report in May. "Google needs to fully explain to Congress and the public what it knew about the collection of data through its Street View program."

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.
Consumer Affairs

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