Our Stance: Google's privacy breach unacceptable
Editor's note: This story was originally published on May 30, 2012:
In today's information age, there is little that is not accessible with a few clicks of a mouse, yet the desire for such power and knowledge does not come without a price.
The past 10 years have brought an onslaught of technology that can be extremely useful. It can also be explicitly dangerous if placed in the wrong hands, and Google has proven this to be true.
Google has committed what Australian communication minister Stephen Conroy labeled as probably the single greatest breach in the history of privacy.
Last month, Johannes Caspar, a German data protection official, finally got a look at exactly what sort of information Google's Street View cars have been collecting from citizens: photographs, passwords, email snippets, web postings and other Internet communication had all been collected in addition to photographs of neighborhood streets to add to Google's Street View feature.
Google claims that an engineer's software was accidentally added into Street View technology.
German privacy laws prohibit the distribution of photos of people or their property without their consent, grounds for the criminal charges that Caspar is waiting for prosecutors to file.
The Federal Communications Commission stated that Google deliberately impeded and delayed the investigation of the Street View data. The FCC ordered that Google be served with a $25,000 fine.
Other suits have culminated into a class-action suit against the Internet mogul in San Francisco, and although Google appealed the initial ruling that the practices were similar to phone tapping, the case may eventually reach the Supreme Court.
Other countries need to firmly hold Google accountable, and only when this happens will there be progress. Google's scope of power seems to instill the notion in some that they are immune to accountability, and so far, they have been. But that needs to change.
As Christian Sandvig, communications technology and public policy researcher at the University of Illinois said, "We don't have much choice but to trust Google. We rely on them for everything. This doesn't have to be the case, and the class-action suit in San Francisco, compiled of several angry citizens whose privacy has been breached, is proof that something can and should be done."
The use of such methods needs to be regulated and curtailed immediately. There is absolutely no need for this unprecedented collection of data on innocent citizens, and if this technology is not seriously investigated, it could easily be used for far worse.
Consider the use of social media in third-world countries, or its role in the Arab Spring. Countries like China have already restricted citizens from full use of sites like Google. What if technology such as this falls into the hands of nefarious political figures such as Muammar Gaddafi or Bashar-al Assad?
President Barack Obama's measure to sanction tech companies in Syria and Iran to prevent human rights abuses from being carried out with this technology is proof that the desire is already there, and it's only a matter of time.