Google Street View Now in 50 Nations as Privacy Questions Linger
Google officials maintained that the data on the WiFi networks was being used to help the company create better location-based services, after initially denying that payload data had been collected. They later admitted that the Street View cars had collected such personal information and laid the blame at the feet of a rogue engineer whom they said put that capability into the software on his own accord. A similar case in the United States was resolved in March when a $7 million settlement was reached between Google and the U.S. government to end a probe into the Street View imaging program, which for three years collected personal information on users wirelessly as the Street View vehicles drove around taking photographs. The fine was designed to resolve investigations that were under way by some 30 state attorneys general over the controversial program. Google's progress on developing clearer, better-known policies regarding how it will use any of the personal data belonging to its users remains a sore point with many governments around the world, which argue that the search giant is not moving quickly enough to address such privacy concerns. Earlier in April, in a related move, six European nations, including Germany, announced that the slow pace of Google's progress on privacy issues is causing them to plan their own steps to ensure improved data privacy for their citizens. That could mean hefty fines and deeper investigations into Google's actions on user privacy. The move is being eyed by a European task force being led by France's National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties (CNIL), which has been waiting since last October for a response from Google on how the search giant would make privacy improvements to protect users of its online services.Meanwhile, Google is continuing the tout the quality of the Street View images that are being collected through the project. The latest Street View images from Hungary and Lesotho bring more intriguing content for users, according to Spitzer. "Now you can take a virtual stroll through the historic center of Budapest, right along the Danube (the river that carves the city in two). See the Hungarian Parliament building or the famous Chain Bridge. Other Hungarian treasures to be discovered include the Széchenyi thermal bath, the largest medicinal bath in Europe, as well as the wonders of Buda Castle." In Lesotho, viewers can see mountainous imagery captured by the Street View vehicles, as well as such sites as "the Lesotho Evangelical Church, which is one of Africa's oldest Protestant churches, founded in 1833 by missionaries from Paris, and the traditional architecture in Nkesi, Maseru," wrote Spitzer. Existing Street View coverage in other countries is being expanded, he wrote, including in France, Italy, Poland, Romania, Russia, Singapore and Thailand. "And, we've added new special collections of a host of picturesque spots—using our Street View Trike technology. These include Portugal's Pena National Palace, or the Sha Tin Che Kung Temple in Hong Kong or the Kilkenny Castle in Ireland." Street View images are now available from regions and nations around the world, including Antarctica, Australia, South Korea and South Africa, covering more than 5 million miles of the world, according to Google.
Google could potentially be fined about $1 billion for shortcomings in its data privacy policies in Europe.