Google escapes fines over Street View

By Peter Wozniak

Google has come under scrutiny after being found in breach of data protection laws over its controversial Street View function – but has avoided heavy penalties.

The information commissioner, Christopher Graham, confirmed that Google had collected personal and private information for the service.

Mr Graham said: “It is my view that the collection of this information was not fair or lawful and constitutes a significant breach of the first principle of the Data Protection Act.”

The company will have to commit to changing its practices and faces external scrutiny of its data collection practices, though it escapes without a fine – infuriating privacy campaigners.

“The most appropriate and proportionate regulatory action in these circumstances is to get written legal assurance from Google that this will not happen again – and to follow this up with an ICO audit,” the commissioner added.

Google’s Street View has been the subject of controversy since it was introduced.

Under the commissioner’s ruling, it will have to delete UK payload data it collected in breach of the privacy laws and improve the training of staff to stave off future abuses.

The ruling will do little to reassure critics as investigations found Google had collected fragments of personal data including emails, URLs and passwords.

Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch held little in the way of praise for Mr Graham.

“The Information Commissioner’s failure to take action is disgraceful,” he argued.

“Ruling that Google has broken the law, but then taking no action against it, shows the commissioner to be a paper tiger. The commissioner is an apologist for the worst offender in his sphere of responsibility, not a policeman of it.

“If Google can harvest the personal information of thousands of people and get off scot-free, then the ICO plainly has a contempt for privacy.”