After getting busted for pulling in data from users with Google’s street view cars, Google now says it’s going to enact “stronger” privacy controls. Here’s a blog post from the company:
In May we announced that we had mistakenly collected unencrypted WiFi payload data (information sent over networks) using our Street View cars. We work hard at Google to earn your trust, and we’re acutely aware that we failed badly here. So we’ve spent the past several months looking at how to strengthen our internal privacy and security practices, as well as talking to external regulators globally about possible improvements to our policies. Here’s a summary of the changes we’re now making.
- First, people: we have appointed Alma Whitten as our director of privacy across both engineering and product management. Her focus will be to ensure that we build effective privacy controls into our products and internal practices. Alma is an internationally recognised expert in the computer science field of privacy and security. She has been our engineering lead on privacy for the last two years, and we will significantly increase the number of engineers and product managers working with her in this new role.
- Second, training: All our employees already receive orientation training on Google’sprivacy principles and are required to sign Google’s Code of Conduct, which includes sections on privacy and the protection of user data. However, to ensure we do an even better job, we’re enhancing our core training for engineers and other important groups (such as product management and legal) with a particular focus on the responsible collection, use and handling of data. In addition, starting in December, all our employees will also be required to undertake a new information security awareness program, which will include clear guidance on both security and privacy.
- Third, compliance: While we’ve made important changes to our internal compliance procedures in the last few years, we need to make further changes to reflect the fact that we are now a larger company. So we’re adding a new process to our existing review system, in which every engineering project leader will be required to maintain a privacy design document for each initiative they are working on. This document will record how user data is handled and will be reviewed regularly by managers, as well as by an independent internal audit team.
We believe these changes will significantly improve our internal practices (though no system can of course entirely eliminate human error), and we look forward to seeing the innovative new security and privacy features that Alma and her team develop. That said, we’ll be constantly on the lookout for additional improvements to our procedures as Google grows, and as we branch out into new fields of computer science.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to update one point in my May blog post. When I wrote it, no one inside Google had analysed in detail the data we had mistakenly collected, so we did not know for sure what the disks contained. Since then a number of external regulators have inspected the data as part of their investigations (seven of which have now been concluded). It’s clear from those inspections that while most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords. We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and I would like to apologise again for the fact that we collected it in the first place. We are mortified by what happened, but confident that these changes to our processes and structure will significantly improve our internal privacy and security practices for the benefit of all our users.
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