I’m watching with interest a simmering cat fight that could boil over soon. Germany is looking at Google, closely, very closely and the German Federal Commissioner for data protection and freedom of information, Peter Schaar, is not happy with the search giant, saying that Google may been in breach of German privacy law.
Regular ThinkingShift readers know of my distaste for Google’s Street View service. After being pressed by the German Government to cough up information on the Wi-Fi data contained on the hard drives of Google’s Street View cars, Google posts (what sounds like) a transparent, open post.
The story goes like this: Google has allegedly been collecting private data on individuals by scanning for private wireless networks and recording the details whilst cruising streets with those ugly Google Street View vans. European officials were concerned about Google’s activities and demanded they reveal the type of data collected. Cornered, Google admitted that private data had been collected but oops, it was a programming error, and we didn’t mean to do it, sorry. But it seems that what Google was busy collecting was not just the names and addresses of private citizens but also information sent over the network such as emails and what websites were visited by those citizens.
Illegally tapping into private networks is against German law so Google is in hot water. Peter Schaar isn’t taking any of Google’s excuses lying down, saying:
‘‘So everything was a simple oversight, a software error! The data was collected and stored against the will of the project’s managers and other managers at Google. If we follow this logic further, this means: The software was installed and used without being properly tested beforehand. Billions of bits of data were mistakenly collected, without anyone in Google noticing it, including Google’s own internal data protection managers, who two weeks ago were defending to us the company’s internal data protection practices.’‘
If German data protection authorities had not demanded Google reveal what exactly was on the hard drives of Street View cars, then I wonder if Google would ever have admitted to “the software error”. Ah, I doubt it.
And German citizens are none too happy about Street View either, with many private home owners signing up to have their properties excluded from the spying Google eyes. I can assure Google that should they ever try to come down the driveway of our rural property in New Zealand, a huge cat fight will erupt. One poor woman in the UK has been captured by the cruising vans not once, not twice, but 43 times as she innocently strolls down a Suffolk street, walking the dog.
Google: your credibility is evaporating dudes.
UPDATE: 18/05/2010 Google’s woes are going from bad to worse – the Australian Privacy Commissioner is also asking questions of Google since the internet behemoth admitted it had “inadvertently” been recording Wi-Fi data from unsecured wireless networks in over 30 countries. Electronic Frontiers Australia and the Australian Privacy Foundation have sent Google a “please explain” joint letter and are pressing Google to reveal what data its Street View cars and vans actually collect. Can’t wait to hear Google’s latest response: “oh, we’ve been collecting heaps of data about private citizens in over 30 countries for four years? Really? We had no idea: must be a programming error. We’ll get back to you”.
All this sounds like Facebook’s latest debacle over privacy issues – and what’s happening now with Facebook? People are leaving it in droves. I have a Facebook “presence”, basically a cartoon cat avatar and minimal information. I think I will now even de-activate this. Note: there is a difference between deleting stuff off Facebook and de-activating your account. It seems Facebook retain the data (eg photos, your connections blah blah) and can data mine it to death.
Mark May 31 in your diaries as “Quitting Facebook Day” – there’s a whole website devoted to quitting Facebook on that day. I plan to join the exodus.
UPDATE: May 26 2010 – Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA), Joe Barton (R-TX) and Ed Marley (D-MA) have sent a letter to Google and asking for a reply by June 7. There are 12 juicy questions that Google is being grilled on. Read it here.
UPDATE: May 27 2010 Google is resisting all demands to hand over private internet data to Regulators (and snubs Hong Kong’s Privacy Commissioner whilst it’s at it). Mmmmmm…..if Google “accidentally, inadvertently, oops, we didn’t mean to” collect data, then why are they fighting so hard to deflect any attempts at getting them to handover the collected data?