Google Maps Privacy: The Street View & Wifi 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
- 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
These charts have been updated as of: April 17, 2012.
Google Street View Photography Investigations
|Canada||—||Google satisfied concerns by developing image blurring technology.|
|December 2009||Street View resumed in February 2012 after Google concessions.|
|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
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
|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.|
|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
|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.|
|Canada||June 2010||Investigation essentially over; Google has Feb. 1, 2011, deadline to delete
all personal data it collected.
|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|
|May 2010||Yes; Google not fined/punished.|
|Ireland||As requested, Google has deleted the data it collected in Ireland.|
|The Netherlands||Yes; Google not fined/punished. But officials still debating related issues with Google.|
|May 2010||Police have ruled that Google broke no laws, but the Privacy Commissioner
is believed to be investigating still.
|May 2010||Fines are expected.|
|Aug. 2010||No; South Korean police have determined that Google acted illegally in collecting personal data, but interviews are continuing.|
|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
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.