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Google fined for Street View 'snooping'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 18/03/13

In-house lawyers involved in the technology sector will have been following the furore over Google's Street View mapping project closely, given the potential importance of any ruling on how data collection is perceived.

The multinational technology firm came under fire for collecting emails, passwords and browsing histories while surveying US neighbourhoods between 2008 and 2010, something it dismissed as an aberration stemming from the actions of a rogue engineer.

Whatever your opinion on huge, sinister companies recording the tiniest details of your living arrangements without your permission, this decision further underlines the importance of appropriate data control policies for major technology organisations.

Google was fined just over $7 million (£4.7 million), which it presumably pulled out of its back pocket, crumpled up along with a receipt from the laundrette and one of those leaflets urging you to accept Jesus Christ as your one true lord and saviour.

The firm stressed that it tries extremely hard to put strong security processes in place to avoid problems like this, declaring that the project leaders behind the scheme had no intention of gathering the data and didn't look at it after realising they had picked it up.

In addition to the piddling fine, the company has been asked to train its staff on privacy procedures, as well as help inform members of the public about how to keep their data safe. However, some analysts suggested that this may not be the best idea given its much-publicised problems when it comes to preventing incidents such as this one from occurring.

US privacy monitor and producer of colourful metaphors Consumer Watchdog told the New York Times that "asking Google to educate customers about privacy is like asking the fox to teach the chickens how to ensure the security of their coop".

Announcing the details of the legal settlement, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said: "Consumers have a right to protect vital personal and financial information from improper and unwanted use by corporations like Google. This settlement addresses privacy issues and protects the rights of people whose information was collected without their permission."

With big data, cloud computing and other technologies gaining an increasing amount of traction across the US and the rest of the world, it is important that lawyers working in internal positions are aware of their businesses' various regulatory responsibilities when it comes to keeping their hands off other people's personal information.