Google Failed to Delete All Street View Data, Drawing U.K. Ire

Google executives said the data was discovered during a recent search of Street View disks, a possible breach of a 2010 agreement with British regulators.

Google is again drawing the ire of British officials over its Street View program, this time after admitting that it had not deleted all the personal information collected by the cars in England and other countries.

Executives with the search giant sent a letter to Britain's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) July 27 saying that they had discovered that not all the personal data had been deleted, possibly violating a 2010 agreement between Google and the ICO regarding the information.

The Google letter said the information was discovered during a recent search of disks connected to the Street View program. In the letter, Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, apologized to British officials.

"Google has recently confirmed that it still has in its possession a small portion of payload data collected by our Street View vehicles in the U.K.," Fleischer wrote. "Google apologizes for this error."

Payload data is the term given to the personal information€”ranging from emails and text messages to passwords and user Internet histories€”collected by the cars.

In a statement July 27, an ICO spokesperson said that the €œfact that some of this information still exists appears to breach the undertaking to the ICO signed by Google in November 2010. €¦ The ICO is clear that this information should never have been collected in the first place and the company€™s failure to secure its deletion as promised is cause for concern.€

Google€™s Fleischer wrote that the company wanted to delete the remaining files, but wanted to get direction on how to proceed from the ICO first. The ICO spokesperson said that Google should give the data to the ICO €œimmediately, so that we can subject it to forensic analysis before deciding on the necessary course of action.€

Both Google and the ICO said they were getting in touch with officials from other countries that may be affected by the discovery of the stored data.

Google€™s Street View program has been a source of controversy since it first started more than five years ago. As part of the program, Google cars have been sent around the world to take photographs in order to create street-level views of communities, which then can be accessed by Google users.

They also were designed to collect basic WiFi information that could be used to improve location-based services. However, it was discovered that the cars also collected the payload data from unsecured WiFi networks. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has said that Google had collected as much as 200GB of payload data between 2007 and 2010.

Government agencies and residents reacted angrily when the extent of the data collection became clear, and that ire was only fed by Google€™s initial denial, which was followed by couched statements admitting that the data had been collected, but all because of a rogue engineer and not through any company-sponsored efforts.

However, in late April, it was learned that the rogue engineer actually had warned at least two Google colleagues€”including a supervisor€”in 2007 and 2008 that the payload data was being collected.

The Federal Communications Commission in a report in April said that it was unable to find evidence of any legal wrongdoing by Google, but agency officials also accused Google of hindering the investigation through delays and failure to supply all the information that was requested. Google officials have denied the allegations. The FCC fined Google $25,000.