Google Finds Itself In Hot Water On Privacy

Google hard drive

Google claims it can't turn over the hard drive because of potential issues related to German law. In a statement sent to media outlets this week, Google lays out its rationale as follows:

"Since our announcement two weeks ago that we had mistakenly been collecting Wi-Fi payload data, we've been working hard to address the concerns of data protection authorities around the world. The data protection authority in Hamburg has made a number of requests -- including to be given access to an original hard-drive containing the payload data, and to a Street View car.

"We want to cooperate with these requests -- indeed we have already given him access to a car -- but 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. We hope, given more time, to be able to resolve this difficult issue."

Google co-founder Sergey Brin has extended a public apology and said it will delete all of illegally collected information as soon it gets the OK from various governments. The big question here is whether Google’s actions were truly unintentional, as the company claims.

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Andrew Plato, president of Anitian Enterprise Security, based in Beaverton, Ore., is of the opinion that Google's actions were unintentional.

“In this case, Google probably wasn't intending damage and I am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt,” Plato said. “Google provides a ton of stuff for free. The cost is privacy. There is no such thing as a free lunch. We all know that, but nobody wants to pay the bill when it comes due.”

The concept of privacy is a sticky one when it crosses country borders. It’s against the law in Germany to collect and store data about the location of people’s wireless hubs without their consent.

But Germany isn’t the only country tightening the belt on privacy, especially with regard to Google, as other European countries are also following suit. It’s more difficult for governments to lock down on companies such as Google when it hinders creativity for smaller competitors.

According to a Thursday report by Fortune, which quoted Mark Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, there’s a good chance Google violated U.S. federal wiretap laws.

However, Plato says that anyone who doesn't secure their Wi-Fi connection shouldn't have an expectation of privacy.

“You can’t pull your pants down in a park and then get mad and claim privacy violations because people stare at you,” he said. “Likewise, you can't prop up an open Wi-Fi whose signals go well beyond your property and claim invasion of privacy."