UK regulator re-opens probe into Google Street View slurp outrage
ICO hauls Chocolate Factory back onto the data carpet
The Information Commissioner's Office has reopened its investigation of Google's controversial Street View technology, after its data-collecting cars collected payload data including emails and passwords from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.
The regulator's head of enforcement Steve Eckersley has sent an aggressive letter to senior Google veep Alan Eustace demanding "prompt" answers to seven questions to explain why Street View was able to slurp such data.
The letter followed the US Federal Communications Commission's findings that it seemed "likely that such information was deliberately captured" by the fleet of vehicles in the UK.
The FCC dismissed Google's claim that a lone engineer had been responsible for slurping unsecured Wi-Fi traffic and concluded that while the company had not breached the US Wiretap Act it was guilty of obstructing its investigation.
The search giant was slapped with a $25,000 fine in April this year for wasting the FCC's time.
Now, the ICO wants Google to explain "precisely what type of data and sensitive personal data was captured within the payload data collected in the UK".
It is also quizzing Google regarding just when its management became aware of what data had been collected by the Street View cars.
Further, the ICO wants to know why this information wasn't provided to the regulator when Google visited the ICO's London office with data that had been "pre-prepared" by the company in July 2010.
The ICO is also calling on Google to explain at what point senior members of the firm were privy to software design documents that showed what type of data could be captured by its Street View cars.
It's essentially looking for a corporate audit trail that backs up - or conflicts with - Google's original assertions about the embarrassing payload data slurp, which the company initially denied.
Finally, the ICO cited the Data Protection Act 1998 in its questions to Google. It wants to know what measures were introduced to prevent breaches at each stage of Street View's development and subsequent deployment.
Privacy campaigner Nick Pickles, of Big Brother Watch, told The Register this afternoon: “The Information Commissioner’s Office is absolutely right to re-open the investigation and must now take every step to get to the bottom of just how many Britons had their privacy trampled on by Google."
“The investigation must now be pursued with the vigour sadly lacking in 2010, and every effort made to ensure that Google answers the extremely important questions that it has so far avoided," he added, while accusing the search giant of "deliberately concealing" the truth of what happened from the ICO.
"Breaching the Data Protection Act is a criminal offence and the law should be applied to Google in the same way as any other company or individual.”
El Reg has asked Google to comment on this story, but it hadn't got back to us at time of publication. ®
Seven questions for the ICO to answer...
1) Why was your investigation into the original complaint so cursory?
2) ICO were aware on 17 May 2010 that payload data was captured; why has it taken ICO so long to mount a thorough investigation?
3) Why did ICO accept Google's assurances at face value?
4) It was obvious that Google were lying to you in 2010 when French regulators found emails and passwords; why wasn't it obvious to you?
5) Why were Google instructed by ICO to delete incriminating evidence?
6) What happened to the data that was transferred out of the country, particularly that which was apparently on the streetview cars impounded by regulators in Europe?
7) Why are you so incompetent?
Re: Get over it
I agree, if you happened to retrieve an email at the exact moment the Google car passed, using a none encrypted connection over a none encrypted wireless then sure your personal data, presuming there was any in the email ended up in Googles hands.
Whose fault is that? Yours, not Googles, I mean exactly how much useable data could they capture as they drove past? And if your so worried about your personal data being abused why the hell is your entire network so wide open to anyone that happens to be within range of it?
Get over it, I agree.
Re: Seven questions for the ICO to answer...
They're an embarrassment. They're completely unable to act unless a foreign regulator shows them up by actually doing their job properly. They focus on rinsing public bodies for hundreds of thousands and completely ignore the most flagrant disregard for privacy law by private companies.