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Australian Privacy Commissioner Concludes Google Breached Privacy Act

Written by Jillian Collins

Australian Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis has concluded her investigation into Google's collection of unsecured WiFi payload data in Australia using Street View vehicles and finds that such collection violated Australian law.

"On the information available I am satisfied that any collection of personal information would have breached the Australian Privacy Act,” she said. "Collecting personal information in these circumstances is a very serious matter. Australians should reasonably expect that private communications remain private.”

For its part, Google has promised to publish an apology to Australians for its collection of unsecured WiFi 'payload' data. Google will also conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) on any new Street View data collection activities in Australia that include personal information and regularly consult with the Australian Privacy Commissioner about personal data collection activities arising from significant product launches in Australia.

The apology, posted on the official Google Australia blog, states in part:

“To be clear, we did not want and have never used any payload data in our products or services--and as soon as we discovered our error, we announced that we would stop collecting all WiFi data via our Street View vehicles and removed all WiFi reception equipment from them…

We want to reiterate to Australians that this was a mistake for which we are sincerely sorry. Maintaining people's trust is crucial to everything we do and we have to earn that trust every single day. We are acutely aware that we failed badly here.”

Google admitted in May that it had collected certain WiFi content information--known as "payload data"--in some 33 countries, including in Australia, with special equipment mounted on its Street View photographic image collection vehicles.

Google may not get away so easily in other countries for the privacy breach. German authorities are leading an investigation that may result in criminal penalties, there is a class-action lawsuit against the company in the U.S., and Federal Trade Commission has said it will "a very close look" at the company's behavior. In some other countries, including Britain, Germany, France, and Italy, authorities have demanded that Google hand over the payload data so that it can be used in possible legal cases against the company.

Related Links:

http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/google-wifi-snooping-broke-the-law-privacy-watchdog-20100709-103eh.html

Google’s apology: http://google-au.blogspot.com/2010/07/were-sorry.html

Statement from the Australian Privacy Commissioner: http://www.privacy.gov.au/materials/a-z?fullsummary=7103

 

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Author

Cynthia J. Larose

Member / Chair, Privacy & Cybersecurity Practice

Cynthia J. Larose is Chair of the firm's Privacy & Cybersecurity Practice, a Certified Information Privacy Professional-US (CIPP-US), and a Certified Information Privacy Professional-Europe (CIPP-E). She works with clients in various industries to develop comprehensive information security programs on the front end, and provides timely counsel when it becomes necessary to respond to a data breach.