Angry data watchdog wants full Street View snooping story from Google

If Google thought its StreetView data collection controversy was over in the UK, it can think again.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (the ICO), a government data watchdog that already investigated the matter in 2010, has re-opened its inquiry. And now it sounds angry, after a subsequent U.S. investigation uncovered dirty linen it did not.

The ICO initially in 2010 exonerated Google of capturing a limited number of email addresses, URLs and passwords from public WiFi networks using its Street View mapping car because available data samples were available only in binary and not English.

But the U.S. Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) since ruled this April that Google captured this data from millions of Americans using software written by a part-time engineer and with awareness of a fellow engineer and a senior engineer.

In a letter to Google SVP Alan Eustace for Knowledge Alan Eustace and its global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer, the ICO on Monday wrote:

“The ICO have reviewed the findings of the FCC report and we understand that a wide range of personal data together with some sensitive data was present in the payloads including IP addresses, full user names, telephone numbers, complete email messages, email headings, instant messages and their content, logging in credentials, medical listings and legal infractions, information in relation to online dating and visits to pornographic sites and data contained in video and audio files.

“It there fore seems likely that such information was deliberately captured during the (Google Street View) operations conducted in the UK. However, during the course of our investigation, we we specifically told by Google that it was a simple mistake. If the data was collected deliberately then it is clear that this is a different situation than was reported to us in April 2010.”

The subtext of the ICO’s letter is that it was misled by Google two years ago.

Now it is demanding Eustace and Fleischer fully disclose:

  • what data was captured by cars
  • at what point Google became aware of this
  • why the kinds of data found by the FCC investigation were not disclosed to the ICO
  • the original software design documents and revisions for Street View data collection
  • details of how privacy concerns were managed.

This probe in to what data Google’s cars collected comes as ongoing resentment toward StreetView itself continues working its way through European courts. Google has won a partial appeal against Switzerland’s 2011 ruling that it should anonymise all faces and number plates before publication, Reuters reports.

Have just seen the Google street view car going past my house as it went up and down my street.

— Rodney Berman (@rodneyberman) June 12, 2012


Saw google streetview car out today.if u c me on West Wickham high st,bromley i’m in a grey jumper, jeans, near a carpet shop. #famous

— Tom Bateson (@tom_bateson) June 6, 2012