Google urged to up privacy again after Street View 'debacle'

Google Street View

Google was today encouraged by the UK's privacy watchdog to implement privacy rules at the start of every project in undertakes.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) carried out an audit into Google's practices following the Street View scandal of 2010, which saw payload data taken from users' unprotected Wi-Fi networks.

The ICO said Google had taken action in all areas agreed in an undertaking signed in November last year, yet more should be done to improve privacy.

Google was called on to ensure existing products have a "Privacy Story" an explanation of how data would be used by a service.

Google must enshrine the concept of 'privacy by design' into each of its services.

It was also recommended the internet giant's projects include a Privacy Design Document, to ensure privacy is respected at the earliest stage of development and beyond. The search giant has created such a document, but the ICO urged it to be used on all Google initiatives from now on.

According to information commissioner Christopher Graham, Google has accepted the findings of the audit.

"The ICO's Google audit is not a rubber stamp for the company's data protection policies," Graham said.

"The company needs to ensure its work in this area continues to evolve alongside new products and technologies. Google will not be filed and forgotten by the ICO."

Amongst Google's positive privacy moves, according to the ICO, were "advanced data protection training" for engineers, as well as better privacy education for all staff. Google's excuse for the Street View mishap was that an engineer had written a piece of code in 2006 for an "experimental Wi-Fi project," which was then unwittingly employed in software collecting Wi-Fi network data.

The ICO came under fire last year for not being stern enough with Google over the Street View case, even though it said it could not issue a fine due to timing issues. The ICO claimed it could not serve Google with a monetary penalty as the data was taken before the watchdog was handed fining powers.

Today's announcement was nevertheless praised by prominent privacy group the Big Brother Watch.

"Following last year's debacle, it's encouraging to see the company has take steps to improve its privacy policies," Big Brother Watch director Daniel Hamilton told IT Pro.

"Google is the undisputed leader in its market. With such a position of dominance, comes a special kind of responsibility towards its users to respect their privacy and safeguard their personal information. Going forward, Google must enshrine the concept of 'privacy by design' into each of its services to avoid the need for intervention by the ICO in the future."

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.