EU Regulators Fine Google $189K for StreetView Data Privacy Violations

Privacy regulators in Germany levied the fine to punish Google for not giving notice that it was collecting user data using its StreetView vehicles.

Google is being hit with an $189,167 fine in Germany for collecting user data without fully disclosing the practice as Google StreetView vehicles combed German streets collecting information for its maps back from 2007 to 2010.

The fine was handed down by Johannes Caspar, the data-protection supervisor in Hamburg, according to an April 23 report by The New York Times. The fine was just under the $195,000 maximum fine that Caspar was able to legally consider, which Caspar said is not high enough nowadays to stop such practices, the report continued. The fine amounts to only about 0.002 percent of the $10.7 billion net profit reported by Google in 2012.

"As long as violations of data-protection law are penalized with such insignificant sums, the ability of existing laws to protect personal privacy in the digital world, with its high potential for abuse, is barely possible," Caspar told the Times. The amounts of such fines need to be dramatically increased and made more painful for companies so that they better protect user privacy, he said.

The StreetView program came under scrutiny both in the United States and in Europe after it was learned that Google was gathering the information street-by-street between 2007 and 2010, according to an earlier eWEEK report.

Google didn't just collect photos of houses and businesses. It also intercepted data from WiFi modem transmissions that included personal data such as passwords, emails, text messages, users' Internet usage histories, as well as other WiFi information. According to a 2012 report from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the StreetView vehicles had collected more than 200GB of such payload data.

Google officials maintained that the data on the WiFi networks was being used to help Google create better location-based services, after initially denying that payload data had been collected. They later admitted that the StreetView 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.

Caspar's agency was the first to uncover Google's collection of such data from WiFi routers in Germany back in 2010, the Times reported. Soon after, Google said it had collected similar information through StreetView in other nations around the world.