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European regulators may renew inquiries into Google data collection

European regulators are reviewing Google's actions for its Street View service in the wake of an FCC report that stated a Google engineer had told others the software used would gather personal data.

May 03, 2012|By Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times
  • A camera mounted on a snowmobile takes shots for Google's Street View in front of the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland.
A camera mounted on a snowmobile takes shots for Google's Street View… (Olivier Maire, European…)

SAN FRANCISCO — There may be more trouble forGoogle Europe as privacy regulators consider reopening or broadening their investigations into the company'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 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 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 told members of the Street View team, including a supervisor, that the software he designed would collect the personal 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 the matter 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, Germany, told the New York Times. His investigation brought the data collection to light.

"This is apparently a totally different situation than what we thought initially," Caspar said. "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."

France'sprivacy regulator said Wednesday that it would also review the FCC report and consider its options. A similar response came from Britain.

"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, said in an email to the Los Angeles Times.

"Google provided us with a formal undertaking in November 2010 about their future conduct, following their failure in relation to the collection of Wi-Fi data by their Street View cars," Jones said. "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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