This week is Privacy Awareness Week — a week to put privacy front and centre. Last year, we worked with the Privacy Commissioner to support the investigation into what happened with our mistaken collection of publicly broadcast payload data (information sent over unencrypted WiFi networks) through our Street View cars. When the Commissioner concluded the investigation last year, we committed to working even more closely with them on the privacy implications of our product launches going forward. This blog post is an update on what has happened since that time.

First, you may remember that our ultimate goal was to delete the payload data. We can report that this was completed in February under independent supervision.

Second, one of the commitments we made to the Commissioner was to conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) on any further Street View activities in Australia. Today we are publishing that PIA. We have carefully considered the potential privacy impact of Street View and how to manage present and future privacy issues.

In summary, we will continue to:
  • Ensure Street View images are not real time.
  • Use automatic technology to blur faces and licence plates before publishing imagery. If one of our images contains an identifiable face (for example, that of a passerby on the pavement) or an identifiable licence plate, our technology will blur it automatically, meaning that the individual or the vehicle cannot be identified.
  • Provide the “Report a problem” tool which allows users to request further blurring or removal of any image or let us know if our detectors miss something.
In addition, we have made some changes to our process. We removed all WiFi equipment from our Street View cars and will not be collecting any WiFi data via the Street View cars. We have also taken steps to strengthen our internal privacy controls. Last October Google appointed Alma Whitten as our director of privacy across both engineering and product management. Her focus is ensuring that we build effective privacy controls into our products and internal practices. We have also enhanced our privacy training program for employees, and we require every engineering project leader to maintain a privacy design document for each initiative they are working on. This document records how user data is handled and will be reviewed regularly by managers, as well as by an independent internal audit team.

We want to reiterate to Australians that our collection of payload data 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 now looking forward to getting Street View cars back on the roads and continuing to provide a product that is useful for all Australians.

Posted by Alan Eustace, Senior Vice President, Engineering and Research