Google could face fines under privacy laws

Google faces being the first company to incur heavy fines under British privacy laws, after admitting downloading private emails and passwords.

Britain’s Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, announced yesterday that he is launching a new investigation into the Street View project, in which Google sent cars around photographing residential streets.

In the process, they “mistakenly” collected entire emails and passwords from privately owned computers connected to wireless networks.

The breach of privacy has infuriated campaigners who say that Google should not have embarked on the exercise in the first place.

Alex Deane, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: "As if building up a database of photographs of millions of people's private homes wasn't enough, the news that Google has also ‘harvested’ email addresses and passwords is nothing short of outrageous. Google must launch an urgent investigation as to how this gross invasion of privacy was allowed to happen."

Six months ago, Mr Graham was granted new powers by the outgoing Labour government, including the authority to ability fines of up to £500,000 for breaches of privacy.

Though Google, which has an annual turnover of almost £14 billion,could easily absorb the fine, the publicity would be highly embarrassing for a company founded on the informal corporate motto “don’t be evil”.

A statement from Mr Graham’ office yesterday said that he would demand information from the company about any invasions of the privacy of British residents as he decided whether to use his enforcement powers.

Mr Graham has not yet imposed a fine under the powers that were granted to him six months ago because the commonest offenders against privacy rules are government agencies, such as NHS trusts, so a fine would simply transfer money from one branch of the state to another.

Google apologised for the breach and says that it is tightening up its internal security and privacy policies. This includes the recent appointment within the company of a new director of privacy, Alma Whitten. “We are profoundly sorry for having mistakenly collected payload data from unencrypted networks,” she said yesterday.

“As soon as we realised what had happened, we stopped collecting all wi-fi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities. This data has never been used in any Google product and was never intended to be used by Google in any way.

“We want to delete the data as soon as possible and will continue to work with the authorities to determine the best way forward, as well as to answer their further questions and concerns.”

When Google began gathering images on its cameras in 2008, there were complaints that some the photographs that appeared on the net were themselves intrusive. In May, the company admitted that the vehicles had also been gathering information about local wireless networks.

Alan Eustice, the company’s senior vice president responsible for engineering and research, admitted that they also invaded personal privacy. “In some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords,” he said in a statement post on the company’s public policy blog over the weekend. “We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and I would like to apologize again for the fact that we collected it in the first place. We are mortified by what happened.”

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said yesterday: “Earlier this year the ICO visited Google’s premises to make a preliminary assessment of the ‘pay-load’ data it inadvertently collected whilst developing Google Street View.

“Whilst the information we saw at the time did not include meaningful personal details that could be linked to an identifiable person, we have continued to liaise with, and await the findings of, the investigations carried out by our international counterparts.·

“Now that these findings are starting to emerge, we understand that Google has accepted that in some instances entire URLs and emails have been captured. We will be making enquires to see whether this information relates to the data inadvertently captured in the UK, before deciding on the necessary course of action, including a consideration of the need to use our enforcement powers.”







PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    CRM Data Analyst – Part time – Permanent – Surrey – Circa £28,000 pro rata

    £15000 - £16800 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    Campaign Manager/Email Marketing/Direct Marketing

    £160 - £180 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: CAMPAIGN MANAGER -...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Ambitious Recruitment and Sales Peopl...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultants - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

    £20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well establish...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice