June 13, 2012

UK Reopens Investigation Into Google StreetView

Google is under fire yet again for its controversial StreetView Mapping service, after Britain alleged it deliberately collected personal data while capturing images in the country, reports The Telegraph.

The Internet search giant agreed to delete all the information it had inadvertently collected in November 2010, asserting to the Information Commissioner´s Office (ICO) that the collection of the data was a simple mistake.

The ICO dropped an investigation into the matter after Google vowed to delete all information gathered. But reopened the probe following a report by a US watchdog that found emails and passwords had been collected from millions of Internet users unknowingly through a software program that was deliberately written by one of Google´s engineers.

The investigation is now looking for specific data that was captured, when Google became aware of the issue, how the news was managed, and why the company hadn´t presented a report on the issue in November 2010.

The ICO is also requesting a certificate to show that all data has since been destroyed. The decision to reopen the investigation came after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened its own examination into the material collected by Google´s StreetView cars in the United States.

The FCC found that an engineer behind the software had told at least two other Google employees about the program, one of whom was a senior manager.

ICO´s head of enforcement, Steve Eckersley, sent a letter to Alan Eustace, senior VP at Google, stating that it had reopened the investigation based on the new evidence, and that it wants information on all captured data including “complete email messages, email headings, instant messages and their content, logging-in credentials, medical listings and legal infractions, information in relation to online dating and visits to pornographic sites.”

“It therefore seems likely such information was deliberately captured during the Google Street View operations conducted in the UK,” wrote Eckersley.

“The Information Commissioner´s Office is absolutely right to reopen the investigation and must now take every step to get to the bottom of just how many British people´s privacy was trampled on by Google,” Nick Pickles, director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, told The Telegraph. “The investigation must now be pursued with the vigor sadly lacking in 2010, and every effort made to ensure that Google answers the extremely important questions that it has so far avoided.”

“We're happy to answer the ICO's questions. We have always said that the project leaders did not want and did not use this payload data. Indeed, they never even looked at it,” said a spokesman for Google.