Google Australia lays out future Street View privacy measures

Google Australia has moved to reassure Australians that any future Street View mapping will comply with privacy laws and not collect Wi-Fi data.

A Senate inquiry last year found that the search engine giant collected data from home networks via its Street View cars, noting private emails, Web addresses as well as passwords were among the data captured.

In a blog posting, engineering and research senior vice president, Alan Eustace, said that since the inquiry, it had committed to working more closely with the Privacy Commissioner on the privacy implications.

"You may remember that our ultimate goal was to delete the payload data," the post reads. "We can report that this was completed in February under independent supervision."

According to Eustace, one of the commitments it made to the Commissioner was to conduct a privacy impact assessment (PIA) on any further Street View activities in Australia.

"We have carefully considered the potential privacy impact of Street View and how to manage present and future privacy issues," he wrote.

In the report, Google outlined that it would ensure Street View images were not in real time, use automatic technology to blur faces and licence plates before publishing imagery.

"If one of our images contains an identifiable face (for example, that of a passer-by on the pavement) or an identifiable licence plate, our technology will blur it automatically, meaning that the individual or the vehicle cannot be identified."

The “Report a problem” tool allows users to request further blurring or removal of any image or let us know if our detectors miss something.

In addition, Eustace wrote Google had made some changes to process including the removal of all Wi-Fi equipment from Street View cars and not collecting any Wi-Fi data via the cars.

"We have also taken steps to strengthen our internal privacy controls," he said. "Last October, Google appointed Alma Whitten as our director of privacy across both engineering and product management," The post reads.

"We have also enhanced our privacy training program for employees, and we require every engineering project leader to maintain a privacy design document for each initiative they are working on. This document records how user data is handled and will be reviewed regularly by managers, as well as by an independent internal audit team."

Eustace added that the collection of payload data was "a mistake" for which the company was sincerely sorry.

"Maintaining people’s trust is crucial to everything we do, and we have to earn that trust every single day," he wrote. "We are now looking forward to getting Street View cars back on the roads and continuing to provide a product that is useful for all Australians."

Got a security tip-off? Contact Hamish Barwick at hamish_barwick at

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU


Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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