Bristows acts as Google admits Street View data was not deleted

Google is being advised by Bristows over its admission that it did not delete users’ personal data that was gathered during its Street View research.

The data should have been wiped almost 18 months ago as part of a deal signed by the firm and structured by IT partner Mark Watts and his TMT team in November 2010.

Bristows oversaw the European response to claims that Street View cars had illegally collected personal data from insecure home internet networks including emails, URLs and passwords.

Google’s in-house lawyers instructed international firms such as Bird & Bird in France and Baker & McKenzie in Hungary to respond to authorities in various countries.

On Friday, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) released a statement saying that Google’s failure to delete the payload data is a “cause for concern”.

The ICO said it is speaking to other data protection authorities in the EU and beyond. Google wanted to delete the data, but the ICO has demanded that it hands it over for “forensic analysis”.

The statement said: “Google contacted the ICO to confirm that it still had in its possession some of the payload data collected by its Street View vehicles prior to May 2010.

“This data was supposed to have been deleted in December 2010. The fact that some of this information still exists appears to breach the undertaking to the ICO signed by Google in November 2010.

“The ICO is clear that this information should never have been collected in the first place and the company’s failure to secure its deletion as promised is cause for concern.”

Google global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer said in a letter to ICO head of enforcement Steve Eckersley that it still had a “small portion of payload data” and that it “apologised for this error”.

Fleischer wrote: “In recent months, Google has been handling Street View disks and undertaking a comprehensive manual review of our Street View disk inventory. That review involves the physical inspection and rescanning of thousands of disks.

“In conducting that review, we’ve determined that we continue to have payload data from the UK and other countries. We’re in the process of notifying the relevant authorities in those countries.”

Bristows would not comment on the live matter, but it is understood that Watts will have been instrumental in the Google internal review as he is a former global privacy counsel at IBM.

The ICO had asked Google seven questions including requesting a precise list of what personal and sensitive data was collected, at what point UK management was aware and when did it stop, and why data was not included in the sample prepared for the ICO by Google.

The ICO will now decide on its next course of action.

Google largely escaped unscathed from the first investigation across dozens of countries and regulators.