Friday 21 May 2010

Oh, Ye Gods

Once upon a time (actually not that long ago), the mighty Google could do no wrong.

Whatever it developed turned to gold, and we marvelled at its ingenuity.

And then some started to whisper that all might not be entirely right about its practices.

Now, it appears that more people have joined in and the whisper has turned into a murmur.

I’ve read that even the regulators are questioning some of these practices, and are asking whether an innocent mistake should be pardoned, or whether sterner measures should be taken to show who’s really who in the data protection kingdom.

The blogosphere is currently carrying posts from people who have questioned the mistakes that Google has admitted to when collecting location information about hotspots as its Street View cars were recording images about the physical environment. It seems clear that Google were mistakenly collecting samples of payload data as well as basic WiFi data.

I can understand how easy it can be, in retrospect, to make such a mistake. It all depends on how robust the definitions of “internet protocol traffic data” and “internet protocol content data” are. And I suppose it might help if, at some time in the future, someone might be clever enough to create proper definitions (together with actual working examples, so we can establish that the definition works just as well in practice as it does in theory).

Then, in an ideal world, we might hope that all EU Member States (and perhaps eventually all countries in the world) were to agree on a common definition. And only then, perhaps, might the Street View drivers be able to get back in their cars and collect this stuff safe in the knowledge that they weren’t going to get locked up for doing what they had been told to do.

I wonder when the UK will develop such definitions – and who will be brave enough to ask the courts to issue a declaration on their accuracy, before everyone piles in and tries to retain IP traffic records but not IP content records.