Google: Didn't delete Street View data after all

Jul 27, 2012 by CASSANDRA VINOGRAD
Executive Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt looks on during a reception, hosted by Britain's Prince Charles, at Clarence House in London for the delegates of the Global Investment Conference, Thursday, July 26, 2012. The Prince of Wales Prince Charles is hosting the reception on the eve of the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics Games.(AP Photo/Sang Tan)

After being caught spying on people across Europe and Australia with its Wi-Fi-slurping Street View cars, Google had told angry regulators that it would delete the ill-gotten data.

Google broke its promise.

Britain's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) received a letter from Google in which the company admits it kept a "small portion" of the electronic information it had been meant to get rid of.

"Google apologizes for this error," Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, said in the letter, which the ICO published on its website.

The ICO said in a statement that Google Inc. had agreed to delete all that data nearly two years ago, adding that its failure to do so "is cause for concern."

Other regulators were less diplomatic, with Ireland's deputy commissioner for data protection, Gary Davis, calling Google's failure "clearly unacceptable." Davis said his organization had conveyed its "deep unhappiness" to Google and wants answers by Wednesday.

Google said that other countries affected included France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Austria and Australia. Attempts to reach regulators in several of those countries weren't immediately successful Friday.

Google angered officials on both sides of the Atlantic in 2010 when it acknowledged that its mapping cars, which carried cameras across the globe to create three-dimensional maps of the world's streets, had also scooped up passwords and other data being transmitted over unsecured wireless networks. Investigators have since revealed that the intercepted data included private information including legal, medical and pornographic material.

The Mountain View, California-based company had been meant to purge the data, and Google chalked up its mistake to human error.

The company said it recently discovered the data while undertaking a comprehensive manual review of Street View disks. The company said it had contacted regulators in all of the countries where it had promised to delete data but realized it had not.

Fleischer's letter asks Britain's ICO for instructions on how to proceed; the ICO told Google that it must turn over the data immediately so it can undergo forensic analysis.

Friday's disclosure comes just over a month after the ICO reopened its investigation into Google's Street View, saying that an inquiry by authorities in the United States raised new doubts about the disputed program.

In April, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission fined Google, saying the company "deliberately impeded and delayed" its investigation into Street View.

It's unclear what, if any, penalties would be imposed on Google by Britain's ICO or regulators in any of the 10 other jurisdictions in which the company had wrongly retained Street View data.

"We need to take a look at the data... There's all sorts of questions we need to ask," an ICO spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity because office rules prohibit him from being named in print.

The ICO has the power to impose fines of up to 500,000 pounds (roughly $780,000) for the most serious data breaches, although penalties are generally far less severe and can involve injunctions or reprimands.

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More information:
Google's letter to Britain's watchdog: bit.ly/OrXSd3
British watchdog's response to Google: bit.ly/OrXYRV

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User comments : 12

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Lurker2358
2.7 / 5 (7) Jul 27, 2012
This isn't like accidentally downloading data to a PC. These files were transferred and stored through any number of collectors, satellites, and servers, not to mention many different storage media for each server. Finding literally every piece of this data and removing it could take decades. It likely put in a database with random, dynamic allocated memory, and the user is not aware of the exact address of each piece of information on any given server.

You don't normally have a tool in your software applications for searching for or characterizing accidentally aquired data, except an anti-virus maybe.
Sanescience
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 27, 2012
"After being caught spying on people across Europe and Australia with its Wi-Fi-slurping Street View cars, Google had told angry regulators that it would delete the ill-gotten data."

After a quick search, I didn't see any thing new that said the data that Google collected was anything other than a sporadic sampling to measure signal strength to chart hot spots. However in this age of any chance to gain attention through indignant outrage, this has been cast as a horrible breach.

The public would be better served by a learning moment how to not publicly open up your wi-fi to anybody and everybody who wants to listen. Which I'm sure hasn't changed.
Grallen
4.2 / 5 (5) Jul 27, 2012
Google was awaiting permission to delete the data. Which was never give to it... Useless article.
Msafwan
5 / 5 (3) Jul 27, 2012
About the letter:
why would ICO want to look at the data? why not just order the delete?
alfie_null
5 / 5 (1) Jul 28, 2012
After being caught spying on people ...

That's a bit of a stretch. Thought I was reading one of those tabloids for a second. I'm not, am I?
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (4) Jul 28, 2012
That's a bit of a stretch.

Even though there is no evidence of spying (and the language is a bit odd) - why did they collect this information in the first place?
Street view is cameras and GPS. They shouldn't even have had a wireless device in the car. Snooping on WiFi connections? What ever for?
Unless you have some explanations why one would do that - and save the data - OTHER than for datamining or some more nefarious purpose, then I'd really like to hear it...because for the life of me I can't think of any 'innocent' use (and I also don't think Google is so dumb that it thought no one would object).
Msafwan
3 / 5 (2) Jul 29, 2012
Street view is cameras and GPS. They shouldn't even have had a ..[Wifi]... in the car. Snooping on WiFi connections? What ever for?

Its for Wifi map. It shows where you can find FREE wifi. eg: if MacDonald offer free Wifi then you can find it and go there and get FREE Wifi.

Good for student :)

You can also use iPad or smartphone to geotag your position using Wifi... usefull indoor where GPS might not get signal.

P/S: but you should set the webmail to use secure connection tho... in case people hack.
denijane
1 / 5 (1) Jul 30, 2012
Google didn't just store the data on free wifis, they stored EVERYTHING they could get their hands on. And by the way, programs usually do only what they are told to. Unless they develop an AI in the meantime, the fact that google's car gathered all this info means that somebody wanted it to do so. As to why they did it, one can speculate. But there is no speculation as to whether this is legal. And it's time they get punished. Because people's privacy is no joke. Even if the people were stupid enough to leave their home networks unprotected, that doesn't mean anybody has the right to go gather their info and then use it for profit.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (2) Jul 30, 2012
But there is no speculation as to whether this is legal.

Well, actually, that's the tricky part. Listening to WiFi is as legal as listening to a discussion at the next table in a restaurant.
While your data is flying thorugh the air it's more or less 'in the public domain'.
Sanescience
not rated yet Jul 30, 2012
Google didn't just store the data on free wifis, they stored EVERYTHING they could get their hands on. And by the way, programs usually do only what they are told to. Unless they develop an AI in the meantime, the fact that google's car gathered all this info means that somebody wanted it to do so.


I can not find a source with that information, please post a link.

As for "programs usually do only what they are told to" anyone with a computer can tell you they constantly are doing things you don't want them to do. No one person anymore can keep track of the ridiculously complex interactions between all the services and drivers and installed junk that accumulates. That is a big part of why PC security is such a problem.

denijane
not rated yet Jul 31, 2012
"No one person anymore can keep track of the ridiculously complex interactions between all the services and drivers and installed junk that accumulates. "
That's absurd! There is no possible interaction between devices leading to automatic storage of passwords, data transfers, visited sites and so on and so on. Programs do EXACTLY as told, whether you tell them to do what you think you do is another thing.
Anyway, believe what you want, anyone with any computer literacy would know there is no way this thing could have happened by accident. It is intentional.
And yeah, listening to an open wifi is legal. Gathering the information of million wifi routers and the information of the users behind them and using it for profit is not. At least not in Europe. This is precisely why privacy is such an important issue. Because such information is worth millions, if not billions. And nobody has the right to earn those money on your back without your consent.
Deathclock
1 / 5 (1) Jul 31, 2012
That's a bit of a stretch.

Even though there is no evidence of spying (and the language is a bit odd) - why did they collect this information in the first place?
Street view is cameras and GPS. They shouldn't even have had a wireless device in the car. Snooping on WiFi connections? What ever for?
Unless you have some explanations why one would do that - and save the data - OTHER than for datamining or some more nefarious purpose, then I'd really like to hear it...because for the life of me I can't think of any 'innocent' use (and I also don't think Google is so dumb that it thought no one would object).


I assume the cars use unsecured wifi networks as a secondary means of determining location when there are gaps in GPS reception, or as a confidence booster for the accuracy of their location... at least that's what I would do.