A car used by Google Inc. to collect data for its Street View mapping service was inspected yesterday, less than a week after France’s privacy regulator criticized the program’s resumption.
The inspection was a result of Google’s decision to begin photographing French streets before officials decided whether the company complied with orders to limit Street View’s data collection, said Yann Padova, secretary general of the National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties.
The inspection “was done especially to verify that they stopped collecting Wi-Fi data,” Padova, 43, said in an interview today.
Google, owner of the world’s largest search engine, said the search had been arranged beforehand. The company is being probed by data-protection regulators in Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic over concerns the Street View program violates privacy rights. Earlier this month, South Korean police raided Google’s Seoul office as part of a Street View investigation. Google’s privacy practices are also being scrutinized by Canada and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
Google said the search was started at Google’s offices in Paris. Padova initially said the inspection was scheduled to be conducted on a street following a phone call to the company to ascertain the vehicle’s location. After Google said the search started at its offices, he said he didn’t have details on where the final inspection occurred.
“We’ve worked closely with the French authorities to provide Street View cars for their inspection, which they’ve now done twice to their satisfaction,” Google, which is based in Mountain View, California, said today in a statement. “As we’ve said before and as the authorities have verified, our cars are no longer collecting Wi-Fi data. We’ll continue to work with them to answer any questions they may have.”
Google will play it safe with European regulators as it seeks to continue Street View data collection in Europe, Sam Hart, an analyst at Charles Stanley in London, said by phone.
“They’re already very aware of the potential damage perceived privacy violations could do to the Google reputation and brand,” Hart said. “I would expect them to proceed extremely cautiously.”
Street View lets Google users click on maps to see photographs of roadsides, and is already available for most major French cities.
CNIL, as the French regulator is known, has received complaints since the program began, initially over the lack of digital masking of people’s faces. One couple told CNIL the service showed photos of the interior of their apartment, including their 4-year-old daughter without clothes on. That complaint was among catalysts for the review, Padova said.
Google resolved that problem, introducing blurred images and removing other photos, Padova said. Later, officials learned that Street View cars collected wireless data, including e-mails and passwords, without people’s knowledge. CNIL issued an injunction in May demanding Google stop and surrender data.
“We have already received a lot of information, notably on the technical aspects,” Padova said. CNIL will examine the responses to determine whether Google complied with demands or whether a fine is in order, Padova said.
He wouldn’t say what the inspectors found yesterday, saying CNIL “asked Google to modify the cars, now we need to verify that it was done.” CNIL has inspected two other Street View cars, Padova said. It is the only European regulator to do so, and has shared information with European counterparts, he said.
CNIL can fine companies as much as 300,000 euros ($382,000) with first-time offenders getting a 150,000-euro fine.
CNIL also ordered Google to register Latitude, a feature on the mobile version of Google Maps. The company has refused to do so, saying the program isn’t subject to French law, Padova said.
“It’s very simple, it’s a question of principle for them and for us,” Padova said.