Australia’s Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis says Google’s Wi-Spy snooping violated the law down under, but instead of punishing the company she asked for an apology and a promise to do the right thing going forward. Apparently that’s the most she could do.
It seems that under Australia’s current Privacy Act the commissioner cannot impose sanctions on a company if the commissioner initiated the investigation. As Curtis put it in her statement:
“My role is to work with the organisation to ensure ongoing compliance and best privacy practice.”
But if violations occur in the future there could be real consequences. She noted that the Australian Law Reform Commission has recommended enforcement powers be strengthened and added:
“My Office supports these recommendations, and the Australian Government has announced its intention to adopt them.”
Under the headline “We’re sorry” in the Official Google Australia Blog Alan Eustace, Senior VP, Engineering & Research wrote:
“In Australia, we have been working with the Privacy Commissioner to support her investigation into what happened. We welcome today’s conclusion of this investigation, and as a result we have committed to working even more closely with them going forward on the privacy implications of our product launches.
“We want to reiterate to Australians that this was a mistake for which we are sincerely sorry. Maintaining people’s trust is crucial to everything we do and we have to earn that trust every single day. We are acutely aware that we failed badly here.”
Now I think the apology just reveals the Google mindset: push the envelope, and when caught with fingers in the cookie jar, apologize. Don’t ask permission, you can always ask for forgiveness.
And for those like me, who think the only real way to get the Internet giant’s attention would be meaningful sanctions, there was this part of Curtis’s statement that prompted hope Google will get what it deserves:
“Other privacy authorities and law enforcement agencies may still be investigating the collection of WiFi ‘payload’ data by Google. In view of those ongoing investigations I do not propose to comment in more detail.”
Let’s hope those authorities and agencies can do more than extract an apology and a promise to be good.