Google To German Privacy Official: Turning Over Private WiFi Data To You Would Violate Your Own Law

Google continues to bump up against frustrated government regulators around the globe who are convinced that the company is doing sneaky things and willfully violating domestic privacy laws. Yesterday European privacy officials continued to express disapproval and assert that Google’s data retention policies violate its six month data retention rule.

Today the NY Times covers Google’s emerging tug-of-war over the private data inadvertently collected by Street View cars. Google is reportedly resisting turning over the data to German government privacy officials (ironically) on the grounds that it may be a violation of German privacy law to do so:

In Germany, Google said it was not able to comply with the Hamburg data protection supervisor’s Thursday deadline to hand over data the company had collected — inadvertently, it says — while roving cars were compiling its Street View photo map archive.

Ironically, the company implied that German privacy laws were preventing it from turning over the information, even to a government agency.

“As granting access to payload data creates legal challenges in Germany which we need to review, we are continuing to discuss the appropriate legal and logistical process for making the data available,” Peter Barron, a Google spokesman in London, said in a statement. “We hope, given more time, to be able to resolve this difficult issue.”

The article goes on to detail various challenges and legal woes Google faces now in several places, including China, Australia and the US.

It’s important for governments to make distinctions between things like “mistakes” (Street View data collection) and policies Google is maintaining (data retention). And yes I believe the WiFi data collected via Street View cars was “inadvertent.”

Regulators should work with Google where possible and, if not, “pick their battles” with the company where there are real compliance issues. If not they will have only limited success gaining compliance and cooperation from Mountain View and every issue will turn “legal” and be contentious.

Yet what we’re seeing here in many instances is frustrated governments seizing upon each perceived Google transgression (willful or mistaken) as an opportunity to question or punish the company for its perceived non-compliance with regulators’ demands.

The fact that Google is US based is also in the background here as well; it feeds a perception of arrogance that some have of the company.

The following are some related, previous posts on Europe, data retention and privacy:

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Critics | Google: General | Google: Legal | Google: Outside US

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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