Posted on June 26, 2013 · Posted in Search Engines

German privacy regulators slapped Internet behemoth Google with a €145,000 ($188,891) fine for the illegal collection of private data. Germany says Google violated privacy laws when its Street View cars collected data from unsecured Wi-Fi connections. Though this figure is the largest fine ever levied by European regulators for violations of privacy, it is an insignificant amount to Google.

With net profits of about $10.7 billion last year, Google could pay the fine using only .002 percent of its 2012 profits. Some German regulators have said the fine is a worthless tool to protect consumer information. Google collected private emails, passwords and other digital data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks when they were creating panoramic maps of roads in almost fifty countries. The company said that all the data collection was a result of its own errors, according to the Register in the UK.

Germany is not alone with its concerns about Google’s indiscretions. Two years ago, French regulators hit Google with a €100,000 ($130,270) fine. The company paid 38 EU states a total of $7 million in March, and promised closer monitoring of its employees for privacy breaches. Ireland and Britain approached the company with similar concerns, but the Associated Press reports they dropped the issue after Google promised to destroy the offending data.

European regulators want to change the law so they can increase the fines levied against the multi-billion dollar company for such privacy breaches. Johannes Caspar, a privacy regulator from Hamburg, has proposed raising fines to two percent of a company’s net profits according to the BBC. These changes are unlikely to happen quickly, so consumers need to find ways to protect themselves. Some safeguards Wi-Fi users can implement to protect themselves include:

Shredding vs. Shedding Information

Internet users should never reveal information about themselves to strangers online. Ideally, users should have a primary email for people and companies they know and trust, and a secondary email address for public use. Avoid default programs that automatically fill in forms with your contact information. Alternatively, consumers need to be reminded that not all identity thieves are online. Some are still dumpster diving for IDs and picking for documents that contain vital information, which is why shredding is an important part of data security.

Drop Cookies

Turning cookies off in your browser may force you to retype your user id and password when using your favorite sites, but this safety measure may be worth the trouble. Cookies can be used to track your online surfing. They mine data concerning how long you have been on a page and where you clicked. Consumers can personally adjust the cookie settings on their own browser, or simply set the browser to “private” at each login.

Alternative Search Tools

Ixquick, which was awarded the first European privacy seal, offers completely private searching. Using a tool called SmartPage, the company allows it users to search the web using Google’s analytics, while protecting themselves with various privacy measures. In order to ensure privacy, the company relies on three main search features: a proxy server, a cookie-free URL Generator, and Secure Socket Layer (SSL), which allows users to send HTTP requests using an encrypted (HTTPS) portal.

Google’s infractions have underscored the security issues that Wi-Fi users face. However, there’s no reason for users to despair. A few simple steps like ignoring spammers, being very careful about communicating information online, and shredding any paper (or electronic) trails can give consumers peace of mind.