Google admits that it 'failed badly' over accidental data collection by its Street View vehicles

Google has been forced to apologise following a conclusion of an investigation that found it was in breach of the Australian Privacy Act.

In an investigation summary, the Australian privacy commissioner Karen Curtis concluded her investigation into Google's collection of unsecured WiFi payload data in Australia using Street View vehicles, finding it to be in breach of the country's act.

Curtis said: “Collecting personal information in these circumstances is a very serious matter. Australians should reasonably expect that private communications remain private.”

Google has provided written undertakings that it will: publish an apology to Australians in its official Australian blog for its collection of unsecured WiFi payload data; conduct a privacy impact assessment on any new Street View data collection activities in Australia that include personal information and provide a copy to the commissioner's office; and regularly consult with the commissioner about personal data collection activities arising from significant product launches in Australia.

Curtis said: “These steps will ensure Google's future products have privacy protections built in rather than bolted on. Google's undertakings will last for three years. This was an issue identified by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) inquiry into Australian privacy laws. The ALRC recommended that the enforcement regime be strengthened. My office supports these recommendations, and the Australian Government has announced its intention to adopt them.”

In accordance with the written undertakings Google's senior vice president of engineering and research, Alan Eustace, simply posted a blog with the title ‘we're sorry'.

Pointing to its admission that it had harvested personal web activity on WiFi networks following the use of its Street View cars, Eustace said that to be clear, it did not want and had never used any payload data in its products or services.

He said: “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.”

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