France slaps Google with record Street View fine

France has stood up, again, to the all encompassing Google. It has fined the company a record $142,000 (100,000) after finding it guilty of collecting private information while compiling its Street View service.

France is one of the few countries to follow through with making a stand, after the UK along with the Information Commissioner’s Office decided to clear the company of wrongdoing.

However, the National Commission for Information Freedom (CNIL) has slapped the company with a fine after it found that it had not kept its pledge to erase all private data.

It instead found that “Google had not refrained from using the data identifying Wi-Fi access points of individuals without their knowledge.”

This, it said, meant Google had to pay up because the methods had constituted “unfair collection” of information under French law. To top it off the CNIL also claimed Google had received economic benefits from the data.

“It is a record fine since we obtained the power in 2004 to impose financial sanctions,” the head of the CNIL regulator, Yann Padova said.

The fine has been welcomed by Big Brother Watch. Daniel Hamilton, Director at the privacy group, told TechEye that he was “delighted” that France had taken “such clear and unequivocal action against Google.”

However, he pointed out that “sadly,” the ICO over here “effectively abdicated responsibility for online privacy.”

This, Hamilton says, has been shown with the ICO “refusing to take what he calls “knee-jerk” action against Google for the illegal harvesting of personal data.”

Although Mr Hamilton said that this showed the ICO could not be taken seriously , it seems the watchdog’s hands could be tied.

Back in December we reported that the coalition was rather cosy with Google. Mr Cameron is being advised directly about the East London Tech city. We reported that Google has many friends here.  Not to mention interesting inter-personal ties.

Mr Hamilton said there was a great deal the central government could learn from “innovative companies like Google, particularly in terms of increasing the general public’s access to information and fostering better communications between the public and private sectors.”

However, he points out that he hoped the Coalition will learn from Google’s best practices and “scrupulously” avoid “any form of engagement with privacy-infringing programmes such as Street View and the monitoring of personal email accounts”

Google launched its Street View service in 2007 and has since been living in a row over spying and privacy concerns. In addition to concerns about photos taken, Google admitted in 2010 that its cars, which were meant to be taking pictures, were also picking up Wi-Fi data and had “inadvertently” captured unencrypted private data including passwords and e-mails. It was blamed on a rogue engineer.