Google gaffe: Search giant fails to delete private Street View data


July 28, 2012

Google Inc. says “human error” prevented it from destroying all the private data its Street View vehicles collected in the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Austria and Australia.

In its letter to the UK privacy regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the search giant reported Friday it still had some data that should have been deleted in December 2010.

“Google has recently confirmed that it still has in its possession a small portion of payload data collected by our Street View vehicles in the UK. Google apologizes for this error,” Peter Fleisher of the company’s Global Privacy Counsel wrote to ICO’s Steve Eckersley, the head of enforcement. “We have determined that we continue to have payload data from the UK and other countries. We are in the process of notifying the relevant authorities in those countries.”

Google has always maintained that the collection of private data was unintentional. But the ICO originally found that such collection was illegal and forced the company to change its procedures. Also, because the UK authority asked for all sensitive data to be deleted and assumed that the company was going to comply, no prosecutions followed.

With the announcement of this incident, Fleischer insists that Google has only identified the data, but has never accessed or used it for commercial purposes. He did admit, however, that the company’s managers knew about the junior engineer's code that allowed this mistake to happen.

“Google would now like to delete the remaining UK data, but would like your instructions on how to proceed,” he writes, pointing out that Google is committed to co-operating with the authorities on this matter.

The ICO, however, noted in a statement that the fact that some of this information still exists breaches the obligations accepted by Google in November 2010.

“Our response, which has already been issued, makes clear that Google must supply the data to the ICO immediately, so that we can subject it to forensic analysis before deciding on the necessary course of action,” Bloomberg quoted the authority’s statement.

The UK watchdog is in touch with other data protection regulators in Europe “to coordinate the response to this development.”

Earlier this year, Google was fined US$25,000 by the US Federal Communications Commission for impeding the investigation into improper data gathering.

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