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Google fined in Germany over illegal data collection


Google must pay a $7 million fine after it acknowledged it had intercepted emails, passwords and other personal information from computer users via its Street View mapping program.



Germany has fined international search giant Google 145,000 euros ($190,000) for illegally collecting data from unsecured wireless networks during research for their Google Street View service.

Germany's privacy regulator, however, deemed that sum inadequate to prevent such breaches from happening again.

The problem began when Google conducted Google Street View research from 2008 to 2010 in Germany — which included systematically gathering passwords, email, and other personal data from unsecured wireless networks in the process. The company claims the gathering of that material was accidental.

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"Among the information gathered in the drive-bys were significant amounts of personal data of varying quality. For example emails, passwords, photos and chat protocols were collected," authorities in the city of Hamburg, who initially discovered the violations in 2010, said. The discovery several years ago provoked international uproar.

"In my opinion this case constitutes one of the biggest known data protection violations in history," Johannes Caspar, Hamburg data protection office chief, added, according to Agence France-Presse.

However, Caspar made clear his opinion that the fine imposed on Google — close to the 150,000-euro maximum — wouldn't be enough to deter such illegal data collection from happening again, The New York Times noted.

“As long as violations of data protection law are penalized with such insignificant sums, the ability of existing laws to protect personal privacy in the digital world, with its high potential for abuse, is barely possible,” said Caspar, according to the Times.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt did not defend the data collection, but told the BBC that "the actions of a single individual that were not authorized by the executives."

Schmidt added: "Google of course is not perfect. In that particular case we actually disclosed it immediately and there were in fact no privacy violations... But it shows how seriously we take privacy and how important privacy is to everybody."