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Canada launches legal probe into Google privacy violations

Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart [official website] announced Tuesday that an investigation has been launched [press release] into inadvertent data collection by Google [corporate website; JURIST news archive] while photographing streetscapes on unsecured wireless networks for its Street View maps. The investigation will determine whether Google has violated Canada's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) [text, PDF], which applies to private organizations that collect, use, or disclose personal information in the course of commercial activities. Google confirmed earlier this month that it had been collecting and storing data on unsecured wireless networks [press release] and contacted Canada to report the problem. Google claims that the data collection was a mistake and was the result of the inclusion of an unintended piece of coding in the Street View software. Google has since disbanded the use of its Street View collection cars. The commissioner has asked the Internet giant to hand over all data collected in Canada in order to determine if Google has violated the nation's privacy law:

We are very concerned about the privacy implications stemming from Google's confirmation that it had been capturing WiFi data in neighborhoods across Canada and around the world over the past several years. We have a number of questions about how this collection could have happened and about the impact on people's privacy. We've determined that an investigation is the best way to find the answers.
Canada joins Belgium, the UK, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland in asking Google to retain data collected in those respective nations. Google is also facing an investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] after an inquiry into Google's data-harvesting techniques was requested by advocacy group Consumer Watchdog [press release].

Google has recently faced several legal battles, including a string of copyright infringement lawsuits. In April, Germany's Federal Court of Justice ruled that the use of thumbnail preview images pulled from websites by Google is not a violation of copyright law [JURIST report]. The original lawsuit was brought against Google by an artist who had images of her work pulled from her website and displayed on Google's image search index without her express permission. Earlier that month, several visual artist organizations in the US filed a class action suit [JURIST report] alleging copyright infringement resulting from the company's book scanning project [Google books website]. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] in March urged a federal court to reject [JURIST report] the proposed class action settlements [Authors Guild backgrounder] in a separate copyright suit [case materials] between text authors and Google due to copyright and antitrust concerns. In February, a federal judge heard arguments [JURIST report] on the proposed settlement but did not indicate when a ruling could be expected.

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About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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