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Vulnerabilities / Threats

10/20/2010
06:19 PM
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Canada, Spain Scold Google Over Privacy

Investigations in the two countries fault Google for gathering WiFi data by mistake.

Regulators in Canada and Spain rebuked Google this week following investigations into the company's inadvertent WiFi data collection earlier this year.

On Monday, the Spanish Data Protection Authority issued a notice saying that it has begun disciplinary proceedings against Google after an investigation confirmed that the company had violated the country's data protection act through its collection of WiFi data during Street View picture taking.

The disciplinary proceedings could bring fines ranging from about 60,000 to 600,000 Euros ($84,000 to $840,000) per specific offense, depending upon the assessed severity of the infractions.

According to a Google translation, the Spanish investigation found that the WiFi packet data gathered by Google included some e-mail names, addresses, and account information, along with some IM and social networking account information and passwords. The data also included SSID network names and MAC address names, some of which identified devices or their locations.

On Tuesday, Canadian privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said that an investigation by her office had concluded that Google had violated Canadian privacy law due to an engineer's "careless error" and a lack of oversight by Google.

"Our investigation shows that Google did capture personal information -- and, in some cases, highly sensitive personal information such as complete e-mails," said Stoddart in a statement. "This incident was a serious violation of Canadians’ privacy rights. The impact of new and rapidly evolving technologies on modern life is undeniably exciting. However, the consequences for people can be grave if the potential privacy implications aren't properly considered at the development stage of these new technologies."

Thousands of Canadians may have had their personal information gathered by the WiFi sniffing done with Google's Street View cars. According to Stoddart's report, Google gathered e-mail usernames and passwords, along with names and residential addresses and telephone numbers. Some of the information indicated that certain people were suffering from specific medical conditions.

To prevent such incidents in the future, Stoddart has recommended that Google implement employee privacy training and privacy governance controls. She has also asked that Google delete WiFi data associated with Canadians by February 1, 2011.

Google has apologized repeatedly for the affair and generally been quite contrite. It nonetheless faces a slew of lawsuits over its WiFi data harvesting, both in the U.S. and abroad.

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