Google’s legal troubles in the European Union continued Monday when Germany fined the search engine company 145,000 euros ($189,000) for violating privacy protection rules. The fine was the largest possible penalty under German law.
From 2008 to 2010, the fleet of cars deployed by the Mountain View, Calif., company to take photos for its Street View service captured data from unprotected Wi-Fi networks. According to German privacy regulators, this data included usernames, passwords, emails, pictures, chat protocols and browsing histories from homes and businesses.
“In my view, this is one of the biggest data protection rules violations known,” Johannes Casper, the data regulator of Hamburg, told Bloomberg.
Google maintains the data was collected accidentally, and the company never wanted it in the first place. Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel, said the company never even looked at the information.
Either way, it’s doubtful that that the decision will have much of an impact on Google. The 145,000 euro fine is only about 0.002 percent of Google’s 2012 profit. The company owns the world’s two largest search engines, which it uses to support an advertising network, and powers 70 percent of the world’s smartphones. Some say that Google can recover this sum in a matter of minutes.
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Earlier this year, Google settled a similar case in the U.S. for $7 million. Experts estimated that it took Google two hours to earn back this loss.
Google has pending lawsuits with six other EU countries over privacy violations. EU law states that each nation can only fine Google a maximum of 1 million euros per case.