Google could face government probe over harvesting of personal info

Google could face new investigations by the Australian Privacy Commissioner over its harvesting of personal information.

The US Federal Communications Commission said in its report on Google: “Google’s ‘Street View’ cars collected names, addresses, telephone numbers, URLs, passwords, email, text messages, medical records, video and audio files”.

The US commission’s 17-month investigation found the purpose of Google’s WiFi data collection was to establish users’ locations.

“But Google also collected ‘payload’ data. This payload data included email and text messages, passwords, internet usage history and other highly sensitive personal information,” the report said.17-month investigation into Google’s collection of sensitive personal data.

The FCC also found Google management obstructed its investigation.

Authorities in Australia, the UK and Germany are examining the FCC’s report and considering further action.

Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim told the Australian Financial Review his department would analyse the FCC report to see if new investigations were required.

Pilgrim said he did find Google in breach of the Privacy Act, for collecting information in the way that they did.

But the Australian Federal Police said there was little chance of a conviction because gathering evidence would be too difficult.

The Australian Government will introduce amendments to the Privacy Act 1988 this year making it easier to enforce privacy laws.

Pilgrim welcomed the new powers for the Privacy Act giving his office the teeth it needs to investigate companies like Google.

“The proposed new powers will allow me to resolve major privacy investigations more effectively and ensure that privacy continues to be valued as an important human right in Australia,” Pilgrim said in a government press release.

“One of the things I’m looking forward to [is that the new act] will provide me with additional powers to have enforceable undertakings,” Pilgrim said.

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