An investigation by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada found the practice was the result of a single Google engineer’s “careless error”, as well as a wider lack of controls at the firm.
Many other countries are also currently investigating Google over the incident in which data all around the world was collected during the process of filming at street level for the Street View service.
The Canadian investigation found, based on a sample of date examined at Google’s head office, that Google had also grabbed passwords, phone numbers, home addresses and in some cases entire emails.
Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said that the data-harvesting operation was the result of a single engineer’s “20 per cent time”, when staff are encouraged to pursue projects outside their normal work. When Google decided to deploy the code to map Wi-Fi networks in the real world, the unnamed individual identified “superficial privacy implications”, but did not send his designs to lawyers for review, contrary to company policy.
The commissioner did not announce any punitive measures, but recommended that Google should destroy the data, tighten its privacy governance processes, and improve privacy training for its employees.