Germany Fines Google Just $189,230 for Privacy Violation
By Jennifer LeClaire / CIO Today. Updated April 22, 2013.
Google has been fined $189,230 by a German regulator for collecting wireless network data via its Street View service. The Hamburg commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information cited Google with illegal recording of Wi-Fi networks. Google has so far been quiet about the fine.
From 2008 to 2010, the commissioner said, the search engine giant simultaneously took photographs of streets and houses and captured wireless networks within range of the vehicles it used in the process. Google admitted that it recorded content data of unencrypted Wi-Fi connections during the course of its documentation during a commission inquiry.
What exactly did the company capture that has the commission up in arms? According to the Hamburg investigation, Google grabbed large quantities of personal data, including e-mails, passwords, photos and chat protocols.
Germany Wants Higher Fines
"In my estimation this is one of the most serious cases of violation of data protection regulations that have come to light so far. Google did cooperate in the clarification thereof and publicly admitted having behaved incorrectly," said Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information.
"It had never been the intention to store personal data, Google said. But the fact that this nevertheless happened over such a long period of time and to the wide extent established by us allows only one conclusion: that the company internal control mechanisms failed seriously."
The commission has notified Google of the fine and instructed the search engine giant to delete the illegally captured data. According to Hamburg, Google already has complied. Caspar said as long as violations of data protection laws are punishable by discount rates, the enforcement of data protection laws in a digital world with its high potential for abuse will be all but impossible.
"The regulation currently being discussed in the context of the future European General Data Protection Regulation, whereby a maximum fine of 2 percent of a company's annual turnover is provided for, would, on the other hand, enable violations of data protection laws to be punished in a manner that would be felt economically," he said.
Google's PR Problem
Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, said the $189,230 fine is insignificant, even trivial, for Google.
"It's more of a PR problem than anything. What's more interesting is the talk of substantially increasing financial penalties for privacy violations. For big Internet companies, penalties that are below at least a $1 million threshold won't be noticed," Sterling said.
"This also reflects the ongoing differences between U.S.-based Internet companies and the much more strict European attitude toward privacy. We'll continue to see that tension play out over the coming several years, undoubtedly with more fines to come."