Whether or not you believe Google
when it says that it didn’t mean to snoop data
networks while its Street View
cars traversed the globe, the fact of the matter is that the company was sloppy with its code and ended up snagging data it wasn’t supposed to have.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the UK
has been interested in this issue since at least 2010, when it tasked Google with performing an internal audit concerning this WiFi snooping. Now, the agency has told Google that it must delete the data it still has within 35 days, and if it finds more disks containing additional data, Google must destroy that, as well.
A failure to eliminate the data, the ICO warns, would be a criminal offense--specifically, contempt of court.
To Google’s credit, the company has managed to prevent any of that data from leaking into the public domain, and there’s no apparent evidence of high-level intentions to snoop data. Rather, it sounds like a rogue engineer did most of the damage himself. If anything, the Google brass are probably as upset by all of this as anyone, because it’s bad PR that they don’t need.
This all seems like a case of a tech company making an error, getting caught, and complying with enforcement agencies to rectify the problem. (Hey, the system worked!) The head of enforcement for the ICO, Stephen Eckersley, put it well when he said, “The early days of Google Street View should be seen as an example of what can go wrong if technology companies fail to understand how their products are using personal information.”