Google is guilty of breaching Australian laws by collecting private wireless data with its “Street View” mapping cars but will escape punishment, the privacy regulator said.
Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis said she was unable to impose sanctions under Australia’s Privacy Act, but had ordered Google to apologise after finding their Street View service had broken the law.
“On the information available I am satisfied that any collection of personal information would have breached the Australian Privacy Act,” Curtis said in a statement.
“Collecting personal information in these circumstances is a very serious matter. Australians should reasonably expect that private communications remain private.”
Street View, which was launched in 2006, lets users view panoramic street scenes on Google Maps and take a virtual “walk” through cities such as New York, Paris or Hong Kong.
Curtis said Google had agreed to publish an apology, to ensure any future Street View activities underwent a privacy impact assessment, and regularly consult her about any other significant plans.
“These steps will ensure Google’s future products have privacy protections built in rather than bolted on,” she said, adding that the undertakings would apply for the next three years, and then be reviewed.
The apology, which was published Friday on the web giant’s Australian blog, said Google “did not want and have never used any payload data in our products or services,” and had removed all wi-fi reception equipment from its cars.
“We want to reiterate to Australians that this was a mistake for which we are sincerely sorry. Maintaining people?s trust is crucial to everything we do and we have to earn that trust every single day,” wrote Alan Eustace, senior vice president of engineering and research.
“We are acutely aware that we failed badly here.”
Australian police are still investigating whether Google breached telecommunications laws. If found guilty, the company could be fined or handed a prison sentence.