The Korean Communications Commission has fined Google 212 million won (US$196,938) for illegally collecting personal data through street imaging technology. The fine was levied after Google’s Street View data gathering process, which took place in South Korea between 2009 and 2010, slurped up private data such as contact details, passwords and probably a great deal else without consent from unsecured wifi networks.
Korea’s Privacy Act requires the consent of the service provider before private data is gathered. Local investigators reported that Google’s camera-equipped vehicles not only shot 360-degree images of streets in major cities but also collected serial numbers of wireless devices on Wi-Fi networks as well as mobile text messages exchanged between the networks’ users.
The Korean authorities told the media that Google has collected some 604,000 items of personal information, which includes e-mail addresses and credit card numbers, but said that the internet giant has yet to delete all data collected illegally and post the Korean Communications Commission’s decision on its Web page.
The situation remiss us of the how Google did the same thing in the UK but our regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office chose to do nothing arguing that Google had not caused enough harm to warrant a fine. The UK snooping, which also took place between 2009 and 2010, harvested passwords, internet usage history and other sensitive data as part of a project to map Wi-Fi networks.
The ICO initially accepted Google’s assurances that the privacy breach was purely accidental and and that it had destroyed all the data.
The ICO’s decision not to issue a fine is in contrast to action taken by the Federal Communications Commission in the United States. It issued Google with a $7m penalty for the privacy breach, the largest ever, and a further $25,000 for obstructing its investigation by refusing to identify employees involved in the project or produce internal documents.
Once again, regulators elsewhere are taking action. Ours in the UK is reluctant to take action.