Google Inc. (GOOG) was offered the chance to pay Belgian authorities a penalty of 150,000 euros ($215,700) to settle a data-privacy case concerning the collection of wireless Internet data through its Street View service.
Belgium’s federal prosecutor today said Google breached a national law by illegally intercepting communication when it collected private data with its Street View cars. The owner of the most popular search engine has three months to accept the Aug. 12 proposal or the case may be taken to court, which has the power to impose higher fines and a prison sentence.
“We have received an offer of extra-judicial settlement from the Belgian federal prosecutor and we have to study it carefully,” Anthony House, a London-based spokesman for Google, said by telephone.
Google has been targeted by data-protection agencies across the European Union for its Street View program, which lets users click on maps to see photographs of roadsides. It was fined 100,000 euros in France for violating the country’s privacy rules. The Dutch data protection agency last week said it may fine Google as much as 750,000 euros if the company doesn’t comply with its demands. The U.K. privacy watchdog said on Aug. 16 that the Mountain View, California-based company has taken “reasonable steps” to improve its privacy policies following a U.K. audit.
“We are profoundly sorry to have mistakenly collected payload data from unencrypted WiFi networks,” House said. “As soon as we realized what had happened we stopped collecting all WiFi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities.”
Belgian data protection regulators concluded earlier this year that Google had committed “flagrant violations of privacy law” by collecting and storing wireless Internet addresses and traffic between computers and WiFi hotspots. The agency, which doesn’t have the power to impose fines on Google, passed the file to the federal prosecutors in January.
The proposed settlement was reported earlier in De Standaard.
To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Bodoni in Luxembourg at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at email@example.com