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Google to ICO: We had no idea Street View data slurp was happening

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Google has denied that it tried to cover up certain aspects of its Street View data slurp as the UK Information Commissioner's Office reopens its investigation into the incident.

The ICO recently cracked open its cold case files on the Street View cars' sniffing of data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks. This was a result of the US Federal Communications Commission's finding that Google had probably done it deliberately.

The UK regulator's head of enforcement, Steve Eckersley, sent a strongly worded letter to Google demanding answers to seven additional questions, which Google has answered in its own strongly worded letter, seen by The Reg.

The web giant said it was "surprised" that the ICO had decided to reopen its investigation since it thought it had done all the stuff the office told it to do to enhance privacy practices.

Google also denied that the information it sent to the ICO for its initial investigation was "pre-prepared".

The firm said it had mounted a hard drive used by one of its Street View cars in its data centre in Belgium and sent the data to the ICO remotely, as had been agreed upon with the office. Google claims that the only messing it did with the data was to use a software called the Codex to convert the binary data on the drive to readable text, since the ICO had requested information that could be read or searched using keywords.

Other than through using the Codex described above, the data on the hard drive inspected by the ICO was not “pre-prepared” in any way. Indeed, until the ICO’s inspection, Google had not viewed or analysed the payload data on the hard drive used, and nor has it since.

Google also denied that lots of people at the firm knew that the Street View cars were scooping up extra data as they drove along.

"The FCC Report and recent media coverage suggests that there was widespread knowledge. That is not the case," the letter claimed.

"The documents we produced to the FCC, the salient portions of which which we have provided to you, show that, at most, a few people early in the project could have seen some red flags in a document or an email and inquired further. But that assumes too much. These few individuals are unequivocal that they did not learn about the payload collection until May 2010.

"No project leader asked for or wanted the payload data; and no payload data was ever used in any product or service. That’s the context in which the documents Google has disclosed should be viewed," the letter insisted.

The ICO's seven questions to Google were all designed to try to figure out if Google knew more about the data slurp and knew it sooner than it has previously let on.

However, Google dealt with each question and basically summed up that nobody knew anything until May 2010.

The firm said that it hoped its responses would convince the ICO to decide to leave the case closed.

As requested by the ICO, Google has destroyed the data the Street View cars gobbled up, which might make it difficult for the regulator to impose any further sanctions on the firm.

The ICO told The Reg that it had received the letter and it would take it into consideration. ®

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