After a preliminary investigation the FTC has decided to give Google a pass on the inadvertent collection of Street View Wi-Fi data. According to Forbes, no penalties are being announced, but the FTC did have some harsh words for the search giant. "... Google’s internal review processes – both prior to the initiation of the project to collect data about wireless access points and after its launch – were not adequate to discover that the software would be collecting payload data, which was not necessary to fulfill the project’s business purpose," the FTC statement read.
The issues stem from the discovery earlier this year by Google that their Street View cars were outfitted with software that was not just recording the SSID and locations of Wi-Fi networks, but was actually storing unencrypted data from those networks. Google made the situation known, and multiple governments began investigating. Google claimed they software's presence was a mistake, and has since stopped Wi-Fi data collection altogether.
It looks like the FTC was satisfied with steps Google has taken, but they may not get a pass from all countries where the data was collected. Do you think Google should have been punished in some way?
Once again Google is drawing ire over its Street View mapping feature, this time from the Czech Republic, which has gone and banned the sultan of search from snapping pictures in the eastern European country.
Officially, the Czech Office for Personal Data Protection claims Google hasn't been granted the requisite registration to do what it's doing, and the office plans to speak with Google about it next week. However, this is the second time Czech officials have denied Google the registration to expand its Street View service since opening the registration case in April.
Spokesman Hana Sepankova told the German Press Agency that Google's application "failed to meet all required conditions that would secure that personal data could not be abused."
Last week, Google enraged German authorities by disregarding a deadline for submitting unauthorized Wi-Fi data it had amassed while collecting images for its Street View service. The company excused itself by saying that there were possible legal ramifications of such a handover that it needed to review, forcing the Hamburg data protection supervisor Johannes Caspar to hint at a criminal investigation against it.
“We screwed up. Let’s be very clear about that,” Mr Schmidt told the Financial Times. “If you are honest about your mistakes it is the best defence for it not happening again.” According to Schmidt, disciplinary action is currently underway against the software engineer who wrote the meddlesome code.
Even a company of a pleasant disposition like Google can become a touch nettlesome when its rivals are busy playing a high-stakes game of musical chairs, where the winner gets to be the world's leading tech company – Apple snatched the honor from Microsoft on Wednesday. Probably feeling left out and dejected, the company even missed a key deadline yesterday. The German authorities had asked it to hand over the unauthorized Wi-Fi data it had collected during an image-collection campaign for its Street View service. But the internet giant let the deadline pass.
It was kind enough to offer a clarification, though: “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.” This excuse appears untenable given the fact that Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg data protection supervisor, claims to have been assured by the state prosecutor, Lutz von Selle, that the requested data will not be used to compound Google's legal problems.
However, Google's failure to comply with the request has actually compounded its problems, as it has given rise to a criminal investigation against it. The company also enraged regulators in Hong Kong by missing a Monday deadline for furnishing similar data collected in that neck of the woods.
The ruckus began when Google fessed up to “inadvertently” collecting 600 gigabytes of “fragmentary data” from open Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries, and offered to destroy the data instead of making it available for scrutiny. Although data protection watchdogs in Australia, Ireland and Denmark gave the nod for the data to be destroyed, most countries have requested that it be preserved for the sake of possible legal action in the matter.
Google has come under heavy flak in recent times for what appears to be dwindling regard for people's privacy. It truly became conspicuous on the radar of privacy watchdogs with its Street View technology. A couple of months ago, it again caused a furore by choosing to launch Buzz, a social networking extension for its Gmail service, as an “opt-out” service.
The letter, dated April 19, is also signed by Stoddart's counterparts in France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom. The missive points to both Buzz and Street View as instances when Google launched a product “with such significant privacy issues.”
Stoddart has called on Google to ensure that its services honor fundamental privacy principles. The company has also been asked to outline ways in which it plans to ensure such conformity.
According to EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, “In Europe, we have high standards for data protection. I expect that all companies play according to the rules of the game.” And the EU didn’t stop there: “Google needs to raise much more awareness of Street View cars going though people's streets as there is an option to opt out of appearing in them but no one knows about it.”
Google’s response came from corporate lawyer Peter Fleischer, who said, “The need to retain the unblurred images is legitimate and justified--to ensure the quality and accuracy of our maps, to improve our ability to rectify mistakes in blurring, as well as to use the data we have collected to build better maps products for our users.” And it probably doesn’t help that a six-month retention limit might double Google’s Street View costs.
While it appears that Google will comply with the EU’s dictate, it has no such plans for amending its present 12-month policy elsewhere. Says Fleischer: “We have publicly committed to a retention period of 12 months from the date on which images are published on Street View, and this is the period which we will continue to meet globally.”
Any privacy minded individuals living away from population centers may think they’re safe from the intrusion that is Google Street View. Well, they might have to move a little farther away. Google has taken to attaching their 360 degree camera system to a snowmobile. With the Vancouver Winter Olympics coming up, Google thought it might be nice to give everyone a view of the slopes the athletes will be using.
“We wanted to do our best to try to capture some beautiful imagery, and have it available to everyone around the world to see so they can really experience what it’s like to be up there on the slopes,” said Google Senior Mechanical Engineer Daniel Ratner. It’s actually a fairly interesting experience cruising down the slopes through Google Maps, and you don’t need to go out in the cold. What’s the next vehicle Google should attach cameras to?
Word are wonderful for conveying information, but sometimes not so hot for communicating. Pictures, by comparison, are transcendent. Not only are they capable of passing along a lot more information (the old “thousand words” adage), they don’t suffer from the human filter requisite of language. Google figured this out with Street View and Images: communication is picture-based, not word-based.
Limits on the use of pictures or images are both technological and arbitrary. Google’s got the technology, now its chipping away at the arbitrary. What started with Street View, which shows us the outsides of things, may be moving to “Store View”, which will show us the inside of things. Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land is passing along a tip from a New York retailer that Google might be in the process of taking pictures inside of retail establishments, with the plan of linking them to Street View.
There are definite advantages for Google and retailers in this. Google will drive more traffic to its sites, in particular Google Maps, while retailers can show off who they are and what they have to offer. It can aid consumers as well, as they’ll get a general feel for a store before venturing a foot inside.
Google hasn’t commented on its new endeavor, so right now “Store View” is entirely speculative. But, logically, it does fit into an overall market behavior for Google.
It seems as though Google is always up to something, and right now, it appears the search giant is trying to tap into billboards in its Google Maps Street View as an additional source of advertising revenue.
Google was just awarded a patent that was originally filed back on July 7, 2008, which describes a system for placing ads in online mapping apps. According to the patent application, Google plans to identify buildings, posters, signs, and billboards in Street View and rent out the space to would-be advertisers, replacing the image with up-to-date ads.
It wouldn't just be useful for updating highway billboards, either. A movie theater could update its marquis and window posters with current information.
The tricky part comes when someone wants to place an ad on a real-life billboard owned by someone else. In this case, Google says the property owner would essentially be running a auction and selling his space to the highest bidder.
Google might be the most popluar online service to offer 360-degree Street View maps with panoramic photos stiched together of several surroundings, but surprisingly, it's a company in Europe called GlobalVision who appears to be leading the charge.
GlobalVision upped the ante in the Street View game by puttering around Switzerland in a Citroen equipped with 360-degree video cameras. The company then created a demo site called VideoStreetView.com
The demo site consists of a map in the right pane and a video player in the left. Routes with red lines are accompanied by video, and once you pick a starting point and ending point, the video loads and begins play. But the coolest part is being able to swivel the video in same manner you would a 360-degree photo, and it will keep playing from that angle. The video doesn't even pause as you're manipulating the camera, and it kind of feels like you're sitting in the passenger seat.
Give it a test spin here, then hit the jump and tell us what you think.