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German watchdog whacks Google with PIDDLING FINE over Street View slurp

'Discount rate' punishment won't deter ad giant, rages Hamburg commish

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Google has been fined just €145,000 for the unauthorised, "negligent" slurp of payload data its fleet of Street View cars captured from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks in Hamburg, Germany.

Regulatory offence proceedings were undertaken by the Hamburg data watchdog in November last year leading to a penalty being imposed on the ad giant today.

"In my estimation this is one of the most serious cases of violation of data protection regulations that have come to light so far," said Hamburg's information commissioner Johannes Caspar.

"Google did cooperate in the clarification thereof and publicly admitted having behaved incorrectly. It had never been the intention to store personal data, Google said.

"But the fact that this nevertheless happened over such a long period of time and to the wide extent established by us allows only one conclusion: that the company internal control mechanisms failed seriously."

However, the commissioner's office complained that the sanctions provided by Germany's Data Protection Act were, in effect, laughable by describing the punishment for such breaches as "totally inadequate".

It explained that the watchdog can only fine a multinational up to €150,000 for negligence, or up to €300,000 for intentional breaches of data protection law in Germany.

Caspar griped that Google and other companies that break the rules were punished with "discount rates" making the likelihood of potential abuse of the legislation much higher.

He added that a rewrite of the current data protection law proposed by Brussels' Justice commissioner Viviane Reding - where corporations can be slapped with maximum fines set at 2 per cent of a company's annual revenue - would be welcomed as a better deterrent to such violations.

Google said it would not dispute the fine. The company's privacy counsel Peter Fleischer added: "We work hard to get privacy right at Google. But in this case we didn't, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue. The project leaders never wanted this data, and didn't use it or even look at it. We cooperated fully with the Hamburg DPA throughout its investigation."

Last month, Google reached a peanut-sized $7m settlement with 38 US states, after its controversial Street View cars collected payload data including emails and passwords from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks across America.

Here in the UK, the Information Commissioner's Office re-opened its own investigation of Google's Street View tech in June 2012 after the Federal Communications Commission in the US concluded that it seemed "likely that such information was deliberately captured" by the prowling surveillance vehicles.

The ICO told The Register in March that its investigation was "ongoing", but added that it was yet to decide if any further action would be taken against Google. ®

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