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August 09, 2012

Google's Street View, a Controversial Product Worldwide: In Australia, Google Must Destroy All Data Collected

By Daniel Brecht, Contributing Writer

What was once a Google (News - Alert) project in 2007 to capture “360-degree panoramic views to include locations on all seven continents from roof-mounted cameras on cars, bicycles, push-cart trolleys, and on snowmobiles,” evolved into something more elaborate. The street view-based camera system, in 2010, began “collecting Wi-Fi data in addition to digital images”; this led to public protests and complaints around the world.

In Australia, the Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, put a ban on Google’s Street View camera on cars, saying the camera-based system “had intercepted users' private data via unsecured Wi-Fi connections.” The Australian Federal Police mentioned the data carried on open wireless networks and collected by Google, either knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, had breached federal telecommunication interception and access laws. As a result, the commissioner had ordered Google to delete the street view data that was collected in the country.

Following the controversy in Australia in 2010 over Google’s Street View system being capable of intercepting private Wi-Fi data, another 12 lawsuits worldwide were filed for similar complaints. According to EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center), there has been several countries that launched FCC (News - Alert) (Federal Communications Commission) Street View investigations, indicating Google had violated countrywide privacy laws.

Google’s Street View data gathering practices has also stirred up a controversy between EPIC and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC (News - Alert)). Its affairs led to an open investigation in 2010; the lawsuit case involved discussing Google's Wi-Fi data collection and determining if Google had broken any federal laws. FTC dropped the case when they learned that Google would “improve its privacy controls” for its Street View device.

Whether or not the Google/FTC situation was handled wisely seems unclear; EPIC was unhappy of FTC’s "non-investigation" of not determining whether or not Google’s Street View had broken any laws, if not had constituted a violation of the US Wiretap Act and the Federal Communications Act.

One thing is certain, Google’s Street View is still a controversial project, and it is still unclear if the small computer running the system and the hard drive to store data has only been used all this time for capturing imagery from public roads—to track its position and record the 3D data to determine distances—and was never used for capturing people's private data from wireless computer networks. To this present day, many still have a “reasonable suspicion” on whether Google's online map service, "Street View" was purposely built with good intentions and was never a device aimed at the compilation of data to violate people's privacy.

To this day, Google has yet to destroy the information its Street View system obtained in Australia. Since 2010, Google has gone through investigations for its data collecting of payload data—audio, video, documents and e-mails are examples—and not deleting private data, which has offended many people in many countries. For this conduct, Google has received many fines for each apparent violation.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman
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