ICO watching over Microsoft Streetside


The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) will be keeping a close eye on Microsoft's Streetside project to ensure privacy laws are not broken.

Microsoft sent its Navteq cars around London yesterday as it started collecting images for its Google Street View rival.

The Redmond giant is due to start mapping other major European cities in the coming months, but will face pressure from privacy watchdogs across the continent.

Google found itself under the regulatory spotlight in nations around the world after it admitted collecting personal data being sent over Wi-Fi networks during its Street View image gathering operation.

The search giant managed to avoid a monetary penalty in the UK, largely because the ICO did not have the ability to fine companies at the time Google took the information.

Microsoft will not be so fortunate if it commits a serious breach of the Data Protection Act as a result of Streetside in the UK though.

"The ICO has spoken with Microsoft about the privacy safeguards their Streetside service must have in place to comply with the Data Protection Act," an ICO spokesperson said. "Microsoft has told us that at this stage they are not collecting any data relating to network locations. We will be speaking to Microsoft on the measures that need to be in place before any additional data is collected."

'Concrete' privacy steps

Microsoft has been praised for its moves in ensuring privacy is respected during its Streetside operation.

The company has been fairly proactive in talking about the project with privacy groups, Big Brother Watch director Daniel Hamilton told IT PRO.

"We are pleased that Microsoft has taken concrete steps to engage with privacy groups such as our own to ensure that public concerns about the risk of the system being misused are fully taken into account," Hamilton said.

"Microsoft must work diligently to ensure they don't repeat Google's mistakes. That means ensuring personal data cannot be captured by its recording devices and operating a transparent process through which people can remove images from the website if they so wish."

Hamilton said it was still early days and "the proof of the pudding will be in the eating."

It appears Microsoft will not be offering an opt out service with Streetside in the UK, however, meaning businesses and householders will not be able to have their premises pixilated before the service goes live.

"It came up in our discussions with privacy bodies but the opt-out service was not something high on their list of priorities," Microsoft director of search Dave Coplin told the BBC.

Microsoft does not plan to cover as much ground as Google with Streetside and will focus on urban centres rather than trying to capture as many locations as possible.

The Streetside addition will mean Microsoft and Google will do battle in yet another area.

Just last month, Microsoft filed a complaint with the European Commission, accusing Google of anti-competitive behaviour.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.