On December 20, 2010, a Legal Bytes blog entitled Look! Out the Window! It’s a Peeping Tom! No, It’s Google Street View noted the problems Google was facing as a result of a faux pas in connection with its Street View automobiles roaming the streets equipped with cameras. As we reported earlier, Google’s picture-capturing vehicles appear to have accidentally gathered data over unsecured Wi-Fi systems in more than one country and city around the globe – including France.
Although Google agreed to delete the Wi-Fi data collected accidentally and has apologized, if one picture is worth a thousand words, France has apparently decided that Google’s pictures were worth about €100,000. This is reportedly the highest fine imposed by the CNIL (the National Commission for Information Freedom – the French data-protection regulatory body) since it was given the authority to levy financial penalties in 2004. The financial sanctions were levied because Google’s activities were considered to be "unfair collection" of data under French law, data that Google was able to collect for economic advantage. The "accident" resulted from some "sniffing" programming code that ostensibly carelessly found its way into the equipment capturing Street View data in the cars as they roamed highways and byways.
While other countries are considering fines and investigations that are on-going, some countries (e.g., the United States) have apparently dropped the investigations or are not considering penalties at this time. This is not the last we will hear of location-based or geo-targeted information raising an uproar, as people "check in" and the surveillance society becomes closer to reality than we often care to admit. The law and regulation are not harmonized around the globe, and many regulators and laws don’t even adequately address the problem – often created because, like so many other issues in our digital world, some information is being shared voluntarily, some is not, and some is a blend.
As always, if you need advice and counsel about your own advertising and marketing efforts, or privacy and data protection guidance from legal representatives who deal with these issues – in the United States and around the globe – every day, feel free to call me, Joseph I. ("Joe") Rosenbaum, or any of the Rimon attorneys with whom you regularly work.