Google may soon make British history, but not in way that will make anyone proud. Due to the company’s admission that its Street View cars sometimes collected entire emails and passwords while taking pictures, Google could become the first organization to be fined by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
As you probably remember, Google slipped the detail about emails and passwords into a blog post discussing new privacy controls. The Information Commissioner’s Office was quick to respond.
An ICO spokesperson said in a statement today, "We will be making enquiries to see whether this information relates to the data inadvertently captured in the UK . . ." Which sounds fine so far, given that "enquiries" aren’t threatening and the term "inadvertently" gives Google the benefit of the doubt.
The problem, from Google’s perspective, is that the spokesperson also said the ICO might have to consider "the need to use our enforcement powers." And since earlier this year, that includes the ability to levy a fine of £500,000 (or about $786,000).
Google could take the financial blow, given that it had $33.4 billion in "cash, cash equivalents, and marketable securities" as of September 30th. The fine would just represent an embarrassing PR loss, especially since the ICO more or less cleared Google in July.
It’s possible other organizations would follow the ICO’s lead, as well.