Google misses German deadline for handing over Street View data

wireless data

Google has missed a midnight deadline for submitting data to German regulators as the storm surrounding the Street View Wi-Fi affair continues to intensify.

Despite promising to co-operate with regulators in disposing of personal data inadvertently collected by its Street View cars around the globe, Google failed to comply with request from German regulators in Hamburg to surrender the data by midnight, saying it needs more time to resolve legal issues.

"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," Google spokesman Peter Barron said in a statement issued yesterday. "We hope, given more time, to be able to resolve this difficult issue."

Earlier this month, Google revealed that the fleet of cars it uses to photograph streets around the world for its Street View service had "mistakenly" also been collecting sensitive information stored on unsecured wireless networks, including personal emails and messages.

According to the search giant, the Wi-Fi networks were being scanned to get an accurate picture of wireless network demographics to help develop separate location-based services, and claimed it didn't know that more than just the network name and router number were being collected. In total, more than 600 GB of what Google called "fragmented data" was collected from 33 countries.

Google offered to destroy the data an offer taken up by regulators in Denmark, Ireland and Austria but eight other European countries, including Germany and the UK, requested the data be kept. Then a week ago Germany announced it was launching a criminal investigation into the affair, and gave Google until midnight yesterday to submit a hard drive containing all data collected in the country.

In failing to comply, Google may be banking on the difficulty bringing charges in a country with no developed legal framework covering corporate criminal liability. However, while it may end up facing a maximum fine of just 50,000 for missing the midnight cut-off, the cost to its reputation is likely to prove far higher.

"Google's refusal to hand over the data will be seen as a declaration of war by European regulators," Privacy International director Simon Davies told The New York Times. "This is about sovereignty and a country's right to determine on its citizens' behalf what is right and what is wrong."

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, privacy commissioner Roderick Woo has threatened sanctions after Google failed to meet a Monday deadline for turning in information there.

"I do not see that Google is taking the matter seriously enough," Woo said in a statement. "Unless some remedial measures are taken by Google promptly, I shall have to consider escalating the situation and resort to more assertive action."