Google on the Griddle

October 27, 2010

Google Faces Landmark Fine for Gross Invasion of Privacy” is an interesting article. Published in the UK Independent newspaper and on the Independent Web site, Google gets grilled in words. The point of the story is that Google may be forced to sit on a hot griddle. Ouch.

The write up said:

Google faces being the first company to incur heavy fines under British privacy laws, after admitting downloading private emails and passwords.  Britain’s Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, announced yesterday that he is launching a new investigation into the Street View project, in which Google sent cars around photographing residential streets.  In the process, they “mistakenly” collected entire emails and passwords from privately owned computers connected to wireless networks.

My view is that many can see Google as a cash point money dispenser. To unlock the lucre, the StreetView code is activated. Google has been apologizing and changing its policies. I find the Math Club’s approach of controlled chaos amusing, but I don’t think some of the officials in the UK and elsewhere share my sense of humor. I was in the Math Club, and I think that most government officials majored in home economics or social science, not physics.

In my opinion, the killer passage in the write up was:

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said yesterday: “Earlier this year the ICO visited Google’s premises to make a preliminary assessment of the ‘pay-load’ data it inadvertently collected whilst developing Google Street View.  “Whilst the information we saw at the time did not include meaningful personal details that could be linked to an identifiable person, we have continued to liaise with, and await the findings of, the investigations carried out by our international counterparts.·  “Now that these findings are starting to emerge, we understand that Google has accepted that in some instances entire URLs and emails have been captured. We will be making enquires to see whether this information relates to the data inadvertently captured in the UK, before deciding on the necessary course of action, including a consideration of the need to use our enforcement powers.”

After 12 years of unfettered frolic, is the twitching hand of regulators grabbing the heat dial for the griddle? One thing is clear to me: Google seems to have a knack for sending different signals depending upon the context. See, for example, “Google Says Whole Emails Gathered by Street View Cars.” The Information Commissioner’s Office seems to have noted the dissonance.

Stephen E Arnold, October 27, 2010



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