Google Must Prepare For Bigger Fines Over WiSpy

France has set a precedent. How long before other countries and states begin holding their hands out to Google, asks Clint Boulton

Google’s WiSpy incident, in which its Street View cars inadvertently sniffed out and socked away 600 gigabytes of user data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries, is costing the search engine cash, not just bad publicity.

While US states are hashing out multi-million-dollar settlements, France has just settled with the search engine, imposing a €100,000 (£61,358) fine on the company in the name of redress for gross privacy violations.

France’s Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) said Google hasn’t fully complied with its demands to receive the data its Street View cars collected, which included whole emails, passwords and browser info.

Google Latitude poses further problems

CNIL also dinged Google for collecting data on Wi-Fi access points through smartphones connected to its Latitude application without telling individuals – an issue that hasn’t come to bear in the US, where the majority of Google’s Latitude users reside.

Peter Fleischer, global privacy counsel for Google, told eWEEK:

“As we have said before, we are profoundly sorry for having mistakenly collected payload data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. As soon as we realised what had happened, we stopped collecting all Wi-Fi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities. Deleting the data has always been our priority, and we’re happy the CNIL has given permission for us to do so.”

Others to follow suit?

What the CNIL fine does do is light the torch for other countries’ regulators to start fining Google for its indiscretions, however accidental.

While France’s fine was a drop in Google’s $25 billion bucket of ad money, it won’t get off so easily in the US, where some 38 states are asking for the data Google collected and for money.

For example, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen absolved Google from submitting the data it collected to the state and agreed not to take Google to court.

However, he left open the door for a future lawsuit versus Google if the parties “are unable to come to a satisfactory agreement through negotiation.”

Translation: Pay us enough and we’ll shut up. Don’t and we’ll see you in court. You can bet €100,000 won’t cut it for Connecticut.