Friday, May 28, 2010

Google Keeps Private Wi-Fi Data

(News Today) - Google has failed to delete personal data it "mistakenly" collected from Australian home Wi-Fi networks despite the privacy regulator saying last week that the practice was a "likely breach of the Privacy Act".

The search giant's co-founder, Sergey Brin, admitted last week that the company "screwed up" by accidentally gathering 600GB worth of private wireless data while taking pictures for its Street View mapping service.

The move has landed it in hot water from privacy regulators all over the world, who have accused the company of unlawful interception of users' data, including audio, video, documents and emails. It could then potentially link these intercepted documents to a specific address.

The company is already facing criminal investigations in Germany over the matter. Several other countries, including Australia, the US and Italy, are investigating whether Google breached data protection and computer hacking laws.

In the US, Google's secret data collection has prompted a class action lawsuit that could force the company to pay up to $US10,000 for each time it recorded data from unprotected hotspots, the International Business Times reported.

Asked to respond to reports that it was still holding on to the sensitive data it collected, the company said it was waiting to hear back from regulators in the countries it operates as to "how to quickly dispose of it".

But Google said last week it wanted to "delete this data as soon as possible" and would not say why it had been unable to do so for Australia. It has already deleted personal Wi-Fi data it collected from networks in Ireland, Denmark and Austria.

"We are keeping data from Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic," a Google Australia spokeswoman said.

"Given that there is some uncertainty about deletion generally, for example one DPA [Data Protection Authority] changed its instruction from delete to retain, we think it makes sense to keep the remaining country data while we work through these issues."

Asked repeatedly for a comment specifically relating to Australia, the Google spokeswoman said the list in its statement includes only "the countries where a decision has been made". It did not dispute the assertion that this could be read as confirmation that it was keeping the Australian Wi-Fi data.

The company would not say why it needed help from Australian regulators in disposing of the private data. Some have speculated that Google is retaining the data in some countries in case it is needed as evidence in any court cases against Google.

Google has also decided to retain the data it collected from British home networks, but the UK Information Commissioner has said in response that it could see no reason for preserving the data and asked Google to delete it as soon as reasonably possible.

Last week, the Australian Privacy Commissioner, Karen Curtis, said she was launching an investigation into Google's wireless data collection. She said the data collected appeared to be limited but such collection was a "likely breach of the Privacy Act".

Today, Curtis said her office met Google last week and while the company answered a range of questions, the regulator "had a series of further questions which we have asked Google to respond to".

"When we have received Google's response to these additional questions we will be in a position to make recommendations about the destruction of data,” said Curtis.

Electronic Frontiers Australia spokesman Colin Jacobs said he was pleased that Google had acknowledged it had crossed a line in collecting the data and was willing to take appropriate steps.

"The only antidotes to concerns about what happened to this data are firstly, to delete it as soon as practicable, and secondly to be completely transparent with the public about what they are doing and when," he said.

"I'm hoping we'll see some satisfactory action on both of these as soon as possible."

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