Google South Africa would not say whether they held on to sensitive Wi-Fi data, which included passwords, Internet usage history and other sensitive personal data, which they collected without authorization in South Africa.
Google was recently fined $25,000 (R199,559.37) in the United States for impeding an investigation into its data collection for its Street View project.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said that Google had collected personal information without permission and had then deliberately not cooperated with the FCC’s investigation.
Google denied that it impeded the investigation. “We provided all the materials the regulators felt they needed to conclude their investigation and we were not found to have violated any laws,” Google said in a statement.
“We disagree with the FCC’s characterization of our cooperation in their investigation and will be filing a response.”
Between May 2007 and May 2010, Google collected data from Wi-Fi networks as part of its Street View project, which gives users of Google Map and Google Earth the ability to view street-level images of structures and land adjacent to roads and highways.
But Google also collected passwords, Internet usage history and other sensitive personal data that was not needed for its location database project, the FCC said.
Google publicly acknowledged in May 2010 that it had collected the so-called payload data, leading to an FCC investigation on whether it had violated the Communications Act.
Data collected in South Africa
In January 2011 Google South Africa confirmed that they have also collected payload data from unencrypted wireless networks in South Africa.
At the time Google said that they were no longer collecting Wi-Fi data, and that they “want to delete this data as soon as possible and will continue to work with the authorities to determine the best way forward”.
Fast forward to April 2012 and Google South Africa is mum on whether or not they deleted this data as planned.
Despite pushing for an answer as to whether Google has deleted this sensitive information, Google South Africa refused to say whether they deleted this data or held on to it.
One of the reasons for this may be that there has been no investigation in South Africa. Julie Taylor, communication and public affairs officer for sub-Saharan Africa at Google, confirmed that their collection of sensitive data over Wi-Fi networks in South Africa has not been investigated.
Taylor added that Google did not want to use, and have never used payload data in any of their products and services.