Between 2008 and 2010, Google secretly collected Wi-Fi header data from residential and business Wi-Fi access points throughout the world. The collection also included details of personal communications commonly known as ‘payload data’. A number of regulatory investigations ensued from this global privacy scandal. Some privacy authorities, including the Australian Privacy Commissioner, sanctioned Google for the collection of payload data. However, the header data collection was largely overlooked. Those authorities that investigated the collection of Wi-Fi header data concluded that Google breached relevant privacy laws. As a result, some jurisdictions now classify Wi-Fi header data as personal information whereas others do not. The collection of Wi-Fi header data gives rise to complex policy and privacy considerations as this data is an important asset of new Location-Based Services. Consequently, it is important to revisit the Google scandal to investigate whether Google’s collection of Australian Wi-Fi header data breached the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth). Our analysis reveals that Google is likely to have breached the Act, which raises important questions about the regulatory actions conducted in Australia and the efficacy of the Act’s application in the face of continuing and rapid technological development.
21 August 2014
'The Google Street View Wi-Fi Scandal and Its Repercussions for Privacy Regulation' by Mark Burdon and Alissa McKillop in (2013) 39(3) Monash University Law Review comments that