South Korea is the latest in a long line of countries investigating Google for violating privacy laws, but it looks like it will be the first to actually take the company to court. Google is being accused of breaching user privacy by accessing e-mail and personal information over unsecured networks while it collected data for its Street View feature from October 2009 to May 2010.
This summer, Korean national police investigated Google’s Korean headquarters. Officials confiscated 440 hard drives and also questioned executives. The hard drives turned out to harbor the same information Google has been admitting it accidentally gathering with its Street View data collection: passwords, e-mails, billing information, text messages, and other confidential items shared over wireless networks. South Korean police have requested prosecutors to charge Google for its violations, but the JoongAng Daily claimed that this is more likely to be at the end of the month.
Various counties have launched thorough investigations of the search-engine giant, but many have been at least somewhat placated by Google’s apologies and concessions to cooperation and destroy all of the accidentally collected data.
South Korean police officer Jung Suk-hwa told the AP that Google has explicitly infringed on telecommunications privacy laws as well as those that protect information regarding location. If found guilty of both charges, Google could owe more than $50 million to the South Korean government. Suk-hwa also claimed this particular case is “unprecedented in terms of the number of people involved.”
But that’s only if prosecutors can pin Google down. “We will continue to seek out those who are responsible. But right now, we are having difficulty in conducting further investigation because the company is based in the US,” Choi In-seok, a Korean police official told the JoongAng Daily.
Google Korea spokesman Ross LaJeunesses recognized the company’s fault, but also defended its intentions. “While we have repeatedly acknowledged that the collection of payload data was a mistake, we are disappointed with this announcement as we believe Google Inc and its employee did nothing illegal in Korea.” As in the similar cases Google is involved in, LaJeunesses reaffirmed the inadvertently collected information would be deleted.