Google Stands Firm On Refusing To Share Payload Data

Regulators in Germany and Hong Kong are continuing to pressure Google to turn over the personal information that its Street View cars collected from unsecured WiFi networks.

Google, which says the payload data collection was accidental, takes the position that sharing such personal information would itself be illegal in Germany, The New York Timesreports. It's not clear from the Times article whether Google also believes that disclosing the information is illegal in Hong Kong.

Either way, Google is right to resist pressure from the authorities. Disclosing data about people's online activity to the government obviously poses far greater risks to consumers than the company's initial -- accidental -- collection of it. After all, governments have far more power than Google -- including the power to put people in jail.

Additionally, Google would be hard-pressed to ever again be able to promise users to protect their privacy -- including the privacy of their search queries -- if the company decides to share WiFi data with regulators. On the contrary, doing so would prove that Google is willing to violate users' privacy in response to political pressure.

Oddly, the U.S. privacy advocacy community isn't unanimous on this issue. The Electronic Privacy Information Center says Google should hand over the data rather than destroy it on the theory that the information could show whether Google broke criminal laws.

But the Electronic Frontier Foundation calls EPIC's approach "wrong-headed." "To allow a government to investigate a privacy breach by further violating privacy is senseless," the group says.

The EFF has the better argument. The most important priority should be ensuring that a government doesn't get its hands on users' communications, even if that makes it harder to hold Google accountable for having collected the data.

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