Germany fines Google 140,000 euros for Street View data breach

Google has admitted that it collected data from Wi-Fi networks, but the company says it did so inadvertently. 

Luc Vincent, engineering director at Google, demonstrates how Google captures images in hard-to-reach places with Street View Trekker at the Google offices in San Francisco last June.

Back in 2010, Google copped to "mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open wi-fi networks" while building its Street View network in Germany. Local prosecutors weighed charges against Google, but in the absence of clear-cut evidence of criminal wrong-doing, ultimately decided against taking legal action. Still, Johannes Caspar, the commissioner for data protection in the state of Hamburg, was not content to let the Mountain View company get away that easy. 

Earlier this week, Mr. Caspar announced that the state of Hamburg was fining Google 145,000 euros, or $189,000, for "unauthorized wireless recordings." The $189,000, obviously, is a lot of cash for the Average Joe. But it's not a lot of money for Google, which hit $50 billion in annual revenue in 2012. 

In fact, in a strongly-worded statement, Caspar acknowledged that the fine would likely do little to hamper a juggernaut such as Google. 

"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 wrote in the statement (hat tip to the Times for the translation). 

This is not the first time Google has been slapped with a fine for breaching European privacy protocols. In 2011, for instance, the company was fined 100,000 euros, or $142,000, by French regulators who alleged that Google was collecting data from open Wi-Fi network. Google, for its part, has always maintained that the data collection – both in Germany and in France – was inadvertent. 

"We work hard to get privacy right at Google," reps for the search giant said today in a statement to PC Magazine. "But in this case we didn't, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue. The project leaders never wanted this data, and didn't use it or even look at it. We cooperated fully with the Hamburg DPA throughout its investigation."

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