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Google caught storing data illegally

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Google is unlikely to notice the slight loss of some loose change, but the company has been fined 145,000 euros by German data authorities for illegally storing information from unsecured wifi networks. German data regulators admitted that the size of the fine was pretty negligible for a company of Google's size.

The German authorities reported that: "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." Google said it was unintentional and data was subsequently deleted, but the authorities described the activity as "one of the biggest known data protection violations in history".

The breach of regulations occurred between 2008 and 2010 when Google was gathering information for the Street View service. In effect, having been caught, Google just had to say “sorry, didn't mean it, won't happen again,” and the authorities were limited to administering a token slap on the wrist. The German data protection supervisor Johannes Caspar said that the maximum fine of 150,000 euros was “totally inadequate” and called for the penalty to be made much more substantial.

Speaking to the BBC, Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt said that the storage of the information was down to "the actions of a single individual that were not authorised by the executives". Which is the textbook excuse used by major corporations from banks to oil companies.

"Google of course is not perfect, Schmidt added. “In that particular case we actually disclosed it immediately and there were in fact no privacy violations. It shows how seriously we take privacy and how important privacy is to everybody." The problem for companies like Google and Facebook is that privacy occasionally gets in the way of commercial exploitation of their users. If the lines get blurred a little in those instances, are we really surprised?

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