Google under investigation in UK for covering up illegal data collection, lying to authorities

Google is coming under a fresh investigation in the UK, which, if it confirms wrongdoing, would be a pretty serious breach of the company’s motto “don’t be evil.” (They were kind of asking for it with a motto like that, no?)

Google initially sent a fleet of cars to the UK to photograph the country for the street view feature in Google Maps. According to The Guardian, Google managed to capture huge amounts of personal data in the process, including “emails, passwords and medical records,” which is a violation of UK’s privacy laws.

When the personal data capture eventually came out, Google gave UK’s office of the information commissioner a mea culpa, saying that they had captured the data by mistake and had no intention of using it. “The project leaders did not want and did not use this payload data. Indeed, they never even looked at it,” Google wrote to British investigators.

But then the US uncovered emails in a detailed investigation that revealed a Google engineer telling colleagues he had designed the technology specifically to capture this data. So now the UK’s investigation includes not only whether Google violated its privacy laws, but whether it lied to government authorities in telling them the data capture was a mistake.

“If the data was collected deliberately then it is clear that this is a different situation than was reported to us in April 2010,” England’s ICO wrote to Google in a recent letter.

If it finds Google did violate its privacy laws, UK could fine the company about $750,000, and the ICO’s investigation could lead to a police investigation into whether Google lied to authorities, writes The Guardian.

Of course, we can only speculate on what Google would want with this kind of granular personal data derived from street view. But tech industry insiders are always two steps ahead of what most of us can imagine doing with the technology. If Google wanted to capture this data secretly, it was probably motivated by the potential to monetize it in some way in the future. If it was just to make the technology work better, why go through all the trouble of lying to cover it up?

Bad Google. Go to your room (which is all of our rooms now, apparently).