John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Germany Questions Google’s Data “Mistake”

With its admission last week that its Street View cars unwittingly captured data sent over unsecured wireless Wi-Fi networks, Google (GOOG) appears to have run afoul of regulators on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sources familiar with the matter tell the Financial Times that the Federal Trade Commission is considering an inquiry into the matter, and the panel of European privacy regulators that advises the European Commission is calling for a full investigation to determine exactly what information was collected and whether the manner of its collection was a violation of privacy law.

The Europeans seem particularly miffed over the cock-up and Google’s explanation for it, which they find a bit suspect. Over the weekend, Peter Schaar, Germany’s federal commissioner for data protection and freedom of information, fired off a caustic blog post questioning the credibility of the company’s claim that personal data were collected accidentally.

“So everything was a simple oversight, a software error!” Schaar wrote. “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.”

Have to admit, he does have a point. How does a company with Google’s smarts and technological acumen collect and store Wi-Fi network payload data in more than 30 countries for three years without being aware of it?

Mistakes are made, I suppose. But the breadth of this one is pretty incredible. As Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the Financial Times, “This may be one of the most massive surveillance incidents by a private corporation that has ever occurred. It is unprecedented vacuuming of WiFi data by a private company. Can you imagine what would happen if a German corporation was sending cars through Washington sucking up all this information?”

Yes, but to err is human…


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