Google Gets a Privacy Deadline

Google Street View map

Google has a fleet of camera-equipped cars prowling the streets of every major metropolis, snapping endless rounds of photographs for its Street View mapping service. The next time one rolls by, watch out–it could be “accidentally” capturing more than just the front of your house.

Back in May, German officials launched a criminal investigation into the company’s Street View cars, and found they had been scanning unsecured Wi-Fi networks and collecting private user data–small bits personal information, accessed websites, and email messages. Google admitted to inadvertently collecting more than 600 gigabytes worth of personal data, but said it was due to a programming error. German prosecutors weren’t satisfied. (Neither was the FTC, which also opened an investigation.)

Today, the government set a deadline: Develop new guidelines for data collection or face government regulation. After hours of talks Monday between consumer protection agents, interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said that unless Google voluntarily adopted new policies, Germany would begin legislation to enforce privacy guidelines on Google and other Internet companies.

“We need a charter guarding private geographical data and we need it drafted by December 7,” de Maiziere told AFP.

Google has made several attempts to hedge the controversy. The search giant recently offered German residents an option to opt-out of its Street View system, allowing users to block images from the service which showed their homes or businesses. That’s one privacy option for which you can likely thank pressure from prosecutors–Germany is the only country in the world where residents have the ability to opt out before the image goes live.AC