Google Maps Privacy: The Street View & Wifi Scorecard

google maps privacy scorecard

It seems not a week goes by without news of a new investigation into Google’s Street View service, or into Google’s collection of personal data via unencrypted WiFi networks that occurred over three years as Street View vehicles drove the world’s streets. It seems like one country opens an investigation just as another country ends theirs. Some countries have multiple investigations open. Or closed.

You need a scorecard to keep track of it all. So, we decided to make one. Below is a list of investigations that we’re aware of — a list we’ll update as new developments warrant or as we learn about new information we’ve missed. There are two different types of investigations that are most commonly launched:

  • investigations into Street View itself, the service where Google vehicles take photos in towns and cities around the world and put them online in Google Maps
  • investigations into Google’s collection of personal data over unsecured WiFi networks that occurred via Street View vehicles

We have two separate tables below, one for each kind of investigation, followed by a timeline of important events related to these investigations. Based on our count, there are close to two dozen countries and governmental organizations that have investigated — or are still investigating — these issues. Some have concluded that Google broke national laws but, to date, none have fined or penalized Google.

These charts have been updated as of: April 17, 2012.

Google Street View Photography Investigations

Country Opened Resolved?
Canada Google satisfied concerns by developing image blurring technology.
Czech Republic December 2009 Street View resumed in February 2012 after Google concessions.
European Union early 2010 Google refused to reduce photo storage from 12 to six months.
Germany early 2009 Google satisfied concerns by developing image blurring technology and allowing residents to request photo removal before Street View launched in October, 2010. A German court ruled Street View legal, but Google has since announced that it’s not taking new photographs in Germany.
Greece   Google has agreed to suspend Street View photography while investigation continues.
Italy Google required to mark Street View cars and pre-announce driving itineraries.
Japan Google agreed to lower height of cameras and re-shoot all photos taken in the country.
Poland 2009 Privacy officials have approved Street View. Google will reportedly drive and photograph five cities: Warsaw, Wroclaw, Poznan, Gdansk and Krakow. The imagery is expected to be available in early 2012.
Switzerland August 2009 A Swiss court recently demanded 100% anonymity in Street View photographs. Google is appealing the decision and says it will have to shut down Street View in Switzerland if the current decision stands.
United Kingdom March 2009 Google found to not be violating privacy laws.

Although there was no formal US investigation into Street View photography, the service did face opposition in certain towns. For example: Residents of North Oaks, Minnesota, protested and Google agreed to remove all photos of the private town.

WiFi Data Collection Investigations

Country Opened Resolved?
Australia May 2010 Privacy Commissioner finds Google broke law, but issued no penalties. A police investigation was dropped after finding that Google “may have” broken the law because the likelihood of a successful conviction was “considered to be low.”
Austria May 2010 Yes; officials have given Google the green light to resume Street View photography, but Google says it has no plans to offer the service in Austria.
Belgium April 2011 No
Canada June 2010 Investigation essentially over; Google has Feb. 1, 2011, deadline to delete all personal data it collected.
Czech Republic May 2010 No
Denmark   As requested, Google has deleted the data it collected in Denmark.
France May 2010 Yes; Google fined EUR 100,000 – the first fine any country/body has levied against Google
Germany May 2010 No
Hong Kong May 2010 Yes; Google not fined/punished.
Hungary June 2010 No
Ireland   As requested, Google has deleted the data it collected in Ireland.
Italy Oct. 2010 No
The Netherlands   Yes; Google not fined/punished. But officials still debating related issues with Google.
New Zealand May 2010 Police have ruled that Google broke no laws, but the Privacy Commissioner is believed to be investigating still.
Singapore June 2010 No
Spain (AEPD) May 2010 Fines are expected.
Spain (APEDANICA) May 2010 No
South Korea Aug. 2010 No; South Korean police have determined that Google acted illegally in collecting personal data, but interviews are continuing.
United Kingdom Oct. 2010 Yes; Google not fined/punished.
United States May 2010 The FTC ended its investigation without penalty. The FCC cleared Google of any legal wrongdoing, but fined the company $25,000 for not cooperating with the investigation.
40 U.S. States June 2010 No; both sides are still negotiating.

The dates listed above represent our best attempt to determine when actual investigations began; in some cases, various public or private groups may have raised concerns prior to actual investigations taking place.

In addition to the investigations above, eight class action lawsuits have been consolidated in Northern California federal court; more are expected to be added.

Google WiFi Data Collection Timeline

May 2007: Google launches Street View in five U.S. cities. Photos are collected by cars driving around with camera equipment attached to the roof. The code that collects and stores personal data found on unencrypted WiFi networks is part of the default software install on Street View cars since the beginning of the service. Street View has expanded and now covers more than 30 countries.

April 23, 2010: Germany privacy officials were the first to reveal that Google’s Street View cars were also mapping WiFi networks.

April 27, 2010: Google announced that it was not collecting any "payload" (i.e., personal) information via its Street View cars.

May 5, 2010: Data protection authorities in Germany asked to audit the data that Google had been collecting.

May 7, 2010: Google grounded its Street View cars (and stopped the data harvesting) when it learned that personal information had been collected.

May 14, 2010: Based on the German review, Google publicly corrected its April 27th statement and admitted that Street View cars had been collecting personal information since 2007.

July 19 and 20, 2010: Canadian privacy officials visited Google’s Mountain View headquarters as part of that country’s investigation. Their detailed report reveals that Google had collected e-mail addresses, e-mails (with usernames and passwords, home addresses, phone numbers, and more). A French report revealed similar information about what Google collected.

October 22, 2010: Google announced several changes to its internal privacy practices, admitted that it had captured "entire emails and URLs … as well as passwords," and said the company is "mortified by what happened."

For more background, see our Google: Street View articles archive.

(Compiled with assistance from Aqute.com’s Google vs.the world map and EPIC.org’s Investigations of Google Street View material.)

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Features: General | Google: Legal | Google: Street View | Legal: Privacy | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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