Officials in the U.K. have ordered Google to delete all of the data it accidentally collected via its Street View cars.
The country’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said today that Google has just over a month to delete the information or face a more severe punishment.
“Today’s enforcement notice strengthens the action already taken by our office, placing a legal requirement on Google to delete the remaining payload data identified last year within the next 35 days and immediately inform the ICO if any further disks are found,” Stephen Eckersley, ICO Head of Enforcement, said in a statement. “Failure to abide by the notice will be considered as contempt of court, which is a criminal offense.”
Between 2008 and 2010, the equipment attached to Google’s Street View vehicles not only collected 360-degree mapping images, but also data from unencrypted wireless networks within range. That included emails, passwords, photos, and chat logs.
Google has apologized for the data collection, and pledged to work with data protection agencies around the globe on rectifying the situation.
The ICO and Google reached an agreement in 2010 whereby Google would implement more security training for employees and data protection requirements for new features. But after the Federal Communications Commission in the U.S. released an April 2012 report that said several employees and at least one senior manager knew of the data gathering, the ICO decided to take another look and re-opened its case.
The ICO has since determined that “there was insufficient evidence to show that Google intended, on a corporate level, to collect personal data,” the agency said today. As a result, the 2010 agreement remains, provided Google deletes the data from disks it found in the last year.
“The early days of Google Street View should be seen as an example of what can go wrong if technology companies fail to understand how their products are using personal information,” Eckersley said. “The punishment for this breach would have been far worse, if this payload data had not been contained.”
In April, German data protection officials handed down a 145,000 Euro ($189,000) fine against Google for the data collection.