November 03, 2010, 1:51 PM — A week ago Wednesday, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission went through the charade of "punishing" Google for collecting private information via wi-fi, however inadvertently, while its vehicles roamed the neighborhoods of the world on behalf of Google's Street View mapping service.
Today it's the U.K.'s turn. From the Wall Street Journal:
U.K. Information Commissioner Christopher Graham, the regulator in charge of data protection, issued a statement saying that, as a result of the "significant breach" of law, his office would audit Google's data-protection practices in the U.K. and ask the Mountain View, Calif., company to sign an official commitment affirming that such breaches wouldn't occur again.
Just to make sure there are no translation problems, a "significant breach" of the law means the law was broken. But the punishment essentially is, "You must promise not to do it again."
Naturally, there'll be no fine, but what good would a fine even do? Google is worth more than $152 billion. Would a $10 million fine, or even a $100 million fine, hurt the company? Or deter it from behavior that arguably crosses over the creepy line? Of course not. It'd be no different than the fines recently assessed Verizon Wireless and Dell Inc.
The lesson here is we must never trust that Google will always live up to its "Don't be evil" motto. Any company that is trying to organize all the world's data -- and doing a good job of it so far -- must constantly be monitored, questioned and challenged. Otherwise we're left to assume (or hope) our privacy isn't being violated, and that's not an assumption I want to make.
Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.