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Google gets gentle Street View slurp slap from UK data cops

WiFi trawler fleet data to be destroyed, but no fine

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Google has escaped a fine from the UK Information Commissioner's Office, after the watchdog concluded its investigation into the company's controversial Street View cars that slurped payload data from unencrypted wireless networks.

The ICO has ordered Google to destroy all Wi-Fi payload data that its vehicles collected. The company will not face any further action from the regulator over the matter. The Office said:

Based on a detailed investigation, including an analysis of the data Google has recorded, the ICO has concluded that the detriment caused to individuals by this breach fails to meet the level required to issue a monetary penalty.

Meanwhile, Google has 35 days to respond to the regulator's notice about destroying the payload data that the multinational confessed it still possessed in July last year.

The ICO's head of enforcement Stephen Eckersley explained:

Today’s enforcement notice strengthens the action already taken by our office, placing a legal requirement on Google to delete the remaining payload data identified last year within the next 35 days and immediately inform the ICO if any further disks are found.

Failure to abide by the notice will be considered as contempt of court, which is a criminal offence.

The ICO publicly confirmed it had reopened its investigation of Google's much-criticised Street View technology in June 2012, after the advertising behemoth's fleet of cycloptic cars slurped payload data including emails and passwords from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

At the time, the watchdog demanded "prompt" answers from Google on the ways the data was collected. The ICO took action after the US Federal Communications Commission found that it seemed "likely that such information was deliberately captured" by the fleet of vehicles.

As a result of Blighty's regulatory probe, the ICO found today that Google's data gaffe was due to "procedural failures and a serious lack of management oversight including checks on the code".

However, the watchdog added that it was unable to find "evidence to show that Google intended, on a corporate level, to collect personal data."

For that reason the ICO said it "concluded that the rationale for its original decision in 2010 to issue Google with an undertaking and carry out a consensual audit remain the same."

The regulator continued: "But the ICO has also this week warned Google that it will be taking a keen interest in its operations and will not hesitate to take action if further serious compliance issues come to its attention."

Google convinced the ICO that the data in question had not entered the public domain.

Mountain View told The Register that the company "works hard to get privacy right".

It added: "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 ICO throughout its investigation, and having received its order this morning we are proceeding with our plan to delete the data."

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has been repeatedly ridiculed for failing to take action against Google over its Street View slurp. The ICO has been forced several times to reopen its investigation of the company following criticism from MPs and Brits about the watchdog's "lily-livered" handling of the probe. ®

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